Text, Time, and Context pp 303-342

Part of the Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP, volume 87)

Temporal Interpretation in Mandarin Chinese



This article presents an account of temporal understanding in Mandarin Chinese. Aspectual, lexical, and adverbial information and pragmatic principles all contribute to the interpretation of temporal location. Aspectual viewpoint and situation type give information in the absence of explicit temporal forms. The main, default pattern of interpretation is deictic. The pragmatic principles are the bounded event constraint, the simplicity principle of interpretation, and the temporal schema principle. Lexical and adverbial information can lead to non-default interpretations. Two other temporal patterns — narrative dynamism and anaphora — appear in text passages that realize the “discourse modes” of narrative and description.

We state the semantic meaning of grammatical forms and explain the deictic pattern. Three times are needed to explain temporal interpretation, following Reichenbach (1947). Mandarin forms code the relation between a designated perspective time, or reference time, and situation time. These are typically marked redundantly in written texts. Relation to speech time is not coded linguistically, but conveyed by context.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Formerly of Department of LinguisticsUniversity of TexasAustinUSA
  2. 2.University of OregonEugeneUSA

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