Temporal Interpretation in Mandarin Chinese

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


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.



We thank Dr. Qing Wu and Ms. Hsi-Yao Su for assistance in preparing the texts that were used in this study. We also wish to thank the audiences who have heard one or both of us talk about the material, including the annual meeting of the Society for Text and Discourse, Lyons, France, in July 2000; the conference Linguistics in the Next Decade, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan, in August 2000; the Third Texas Workshop on Text Structure in October 2000; and the First International Conference on Modern Chinese Grammar for the New Millenium, Hong Kong, in March 2001. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments. [Editors’ note: We thank Mary Erbaugh for proofreading this chapter. She has made a few corrections to the glosses and references that appeared in the original publication. Lastly, we thank Barbara Partee for noticing an error in the formalism in example (11e) and for suggesting a correction. That correction has been made.]


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© 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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