Sinologists in Bydgoszcz

Chinfa LIEN

Topic: Interrogative Adverbs of Degree in Taiwanese Southern Min

Prof. Lien’s talk explores the syntactic and semantic properties of interrogative adverbs of degree (IADD) in Taiwanese Southern Min (TSM). The IADD in TSM occurs in two kinds of constructions: (1) it comprises the adverb 若 (偌) jua7 ‘how’ and a scalar adjective, as exemplified in 若遠 jua7 hng7 ‘how far’, and (2) it consists of the adverb 若 (偌) jua7 ‘how’ and a noun phrase of quantity, as in 若多(濟)册 jua7 tsue7 tsheh4 ‘how many books?’ and 若多(濟) jua7 tsue7 ‘how much/how many?’. In the second case, the element denoting an individual such as 冊 tsheh4 ‘book’ is optional.

Jua7 as a word meaning ‘how’ is underspecified in the following senses. Its interpretation has a close tie with the clause typing/force or mood in traditional terms. Prof. Lien assumes with Rizzi (1997) that force as well as topic and focus is anchored at the split-CP above TP and VP in the hierarchy of functional categories. He proposes that there is a checking relationship between the operator of clause types, such as questions, exclamatives or indicative clauses, and the unvalued wh-word 若jua7 (Chomsky 2001; Frampton & Gutmann 2002; López 2007).  First, the Q operator in CP and the wh-word 若jua7 have to enter a local configuration where the Q operator is positioned at the head of the degree adverbial projection of interrogatives and the unvalued wh-word 若jua7 occupies its specifier position in the clause-typing or rather the force in the split-CP.

The relationship between the Q-operator and the wh-word should be local. In particular, the two elements cannot be interrupted by a third functional element. If the intervention occurs, the merged expression will clash or has to resort to or be given a different interpretation. For example, if there is a functional category such as a negative element無bo5 not.have that intervenes between the Q operator and the wh-word, then the interpretation of the degree interrogatives will be blocked. As an option, the whole expression under the scope of negation will take on an proximal scalar interpretation in the indicative, as in 無若懸 bo5 jua7 kuainn5 not have how tall ‘not so tall’.

Second, if what is involved in the force layer of the split-CP is an EXCL (exclamative) operator, then the whole expression will take on an exclamatory interpretation following the checking of the EXCL operator and the unvalued 若jua7,  as in 若好食咧jua7 ho2tsiah8 leh0 ’How delicious it is!’ where the sentence-final particle 咧leh0 is an explicit operator of exclamatives along with the specific adjustment of intonation. (Zanuttini & Portner. 2003)

The constructions involving IADD are interesting in the diachronic perspective. The composition of the ordered set of number denoted by 偌jua7 ‘how’ and individuals has to be accomplished with the mediation of a functor of quantity, be it explicit or implicit. For example, how men is not well-formed in English since the function of quantity is missing. Likewise, 偌人 jua7 lang5 is not grammatical in TSM. However, 偌人 jua7 lang5 meaning ‘how many men?’ is perfectly acceptable in early SM dateable to the sixteenth century at the earliest (Wu 2001a, 2001b, 2001c, 2001d). It is also attested in the text of the late nineteenth century (Douglas 1873: 185). It is not acceptable in TSM for the following reasons. 偌jua7 in偌人 jua7 lang5 is a fusional form of 若 jiok8 and the word of quantity夥 ua7 ‘many, much’ in early SM. However, a new functor of quantity 濟tsue7 ‘much/many’ in TSM has to be added to yield偌濟人 jua7 tsue7 lang5 in place of 偌人 jua7 lang5 when the early form of quantity 夥 ua7 ‘many, much’ has been incorporated in 偌 and as a result its meaning has been considerably obliterated. The new word of quantity 濟tsue7 ‘much/many’ emerges to fill the lacuna left by its early predecessor 夥 ua7 ‘many, much’. This is a manifestation of cyclic change in diachronic syntax (Gelderen 2011).


Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Derivation by Phase. In Michael Kenstowicz (ed.) Ken Hale: A life in Language, pp. 1–52. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 

Douglas, Rev. Carstairs. 1873. Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy with the Principal Variations of the Chang-chew and Chin-Chew Dialects. London: Trübner and Co.

Frampton, John and Sam Gutmann. 2002. Crash-proof syntax. In Samuel David Epstein and T. Daniel Seely (eds.) Derivations and Explanations in the Minimalist Program, pp. 90–105. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Gelderen, Elly van. 2011. The Linguistic Cycle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

López, Luis. 2007. Locality and the Architecture of Syntactic Dependencies. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rizzi, Luigi. 1997. The fine structure of the left periphery. In Liliane Haegeman (ed.) Elements of Grammar, pp. 281–337. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Wu, Shouli. 2001a. Ming Jiajing Kan Li Jing Ji Xiwen Jiaoli [Annotated Texts of the Romance of Li Jing Ji of Ming Jiajing Edition (JJ) ]. Taipei: Congyi Workshop.

Wu, Shouli. 2001b. Ming Wanli Kan Li Zhi Ji Xiwen Jiaoli [Annotated Texts of the Romance of Li Zhi Ji of Ming Wanli Edition (WL) ]. Taipei: Congyi Workshop.

Wu, Shouli. 2001c. Qing Shunzhi Kan Li Zhi Ji Xiwen Jiaoli [Annotated Texts of the Romance of Li Zhi Ji of Qing Shunzhi Edition (SZ) ] Taipei: Congyi Workshop.

Wu, Shouli. 2001d. Qing Guangxu Kan Li Zhi Ji Xiwen Jiaoli [Annotated Texts of the Romance of Li Zhi Ji of Qing Guangxu Edition (GX) ]. Taipei: Congyi Workshop.

Zanuttini, Raffaella and Paul Portner. 2003. Exclamative clauses: The syntax-semantics interface. Language 79(1): 39-81.