Dislocation or afterthought? : a conversation analytic account of incremental sentences in Chinese.
Date of Issue2012
College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
For almost 80 years, Chinese linguists have been fascinated by sentences like “Pijiu ba, he dianr!” (“Beer, I'll have some!”), which look superficially like a jumbled-up version of “normal-order sentences.” Numerous accounts have been proposed to explain their structure and meaning, but no consensus has been reached as to how their true essence should be captured, making it one of the most intriguing and least well understood phenomena in Chinese grammar. This article adopts a “dynamic” perspective and analyzes these sentences from the point of view of their planning and delivery in real time. It is argued that the key to a full understanding of these sentences is to think of them as “incremental sentences” (i.e., bipartite structures consisting of a “host” followed by an “increment”). An examination of a corpus of naturally occurring data shows that, as a grammatical form, the incremental sentence can be used in different sequential contexts to perform a variety of actions. These span a spectrum of possibilities, including intensification, emphasis, backgrounding, qualification, clarification, and disambiguation.