Temporal Information in Sentences of Mandarin

All languages allow speakers and receivers to locate situations in time. In this chapter, we explore how temporal information is conveyed in Mandarin. The language does not have tense morphemes, and aspectual viewpoint is not obligatory, yet people are able to arrive at consistent temporal interpretations. We identify the resources that convey the relevant information, and state principles for temporal interpretation.1 There is a precept of linguistic research that counsels a strategy of explicitness: study a domain in languages that code it explicitly, to understand the domain in languages that do not. We use the strategy of explicitness to study temporal location. Tense and aspectual viewpoint, key factors in temporal location, are obligatory in sentences of English. After formulating principles for how temporal information is conveyed in English, we are better able to understand it in Mandarin. We begin with a sketch of the English system. We generalize to a default principle of interpretation that applies to languages with and without tense, and then give principles and make predictions about temporal location in Mandarin. In the second part of this chapter we report a study of six Mandarin texts, in which we tested our predictions. The predictions were borne out, as demonstrated with examples and discussion.
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