A Semantics-Pragmatics Approach to the Interpretations of Mandarin Bare Nouns

Liwei CHEN, Duxin CAO


Bare nouns are nouns that occur without demonstratives, numerals or articles. Mandarin bare nouns, like English bare plurals, can have a generic or existential interpretation. But unlike English bare plurals, they can also have definite reference. There have been proposals to account for the interpretations of Mandarin bare nouns in terms of syntactic structure (Audrey Li, 1997; Cheng and Sybesma, 1999) and predicate types (Jie, 1997).
The present paper attempts to account for different interpretations of Mandarin bare nouns by relating the kind referring vs. object referring interpretations to the semantic distinction between individual-level and stage-level predicates (Kratzer, 1989) and shows that Mandarin bare nouns have a generic interpretation with individual-level predicates. With stage-level predicates, they have a definite interpretation when they are in topic position and an existential interpretation when they are not in topic position.
However, bare nouns often do not appear as arguments of any predicates in natural discourse. The current paper attempts to reconstruct sentence fragments based on contexts and show that the Givenness Hierarchy (Gundel et al., 1993) restricts possible interpretations of Chinese bare nouns and that Relevance Theory (Sperber & Wilson, 1995) is needed to explain how people choose the intended interpretation from the possible ones.


Mandarin Bare nouns; Semantic distinction; Givenness hierarchy; Relevance theory

Full Text:



Cheng, Lisa L. S., Rint, Sybesma (1999). Bare and not-so-bare nouns and the structure of NP. Linguistic Inquir, 30(4), 509–542.

Diesing, Molly (1992). Indefinites. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Dong, X. F. (2010). Diachronic Changes of the Referential Properties of Bare Nouns in Chinese. Studies in Language and Linguistics, 30(1), 11-19.

Gao, S. Q. (2004). The Expressions of Generic in Chinese. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 26(3),14-21.

Goldberg, Adele E. (1995). Constructions: A Construction Grammar Approach to Argument Structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Grice, Paul (1975). Logic and conversation. In Cole, P., Morgan, J. (Eds.), Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts (pp.41-58). New York: Academic Press.

Gundel, Jeanette K., Hedberg, Nancy, & Zacharski, Ron (1993). Cognitive status and the form of referring expressions in discourse. Language, 69(2), 274–307.

Gundel, Jeanette K., & Mulkern, Ann E. (1998). Quantity implicatures in reference understanding. Pragmatics and Cognition, 6(1), 21–45.

Kratzer, Angelika (1989). Stage and individual level predicates. In Carlson, G. N., Pelletier, F. J. (Eds.), The Generic Book (pp.125–175). Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Krifka, Manfred, Pelletier, F. J., Carlson, G. N., Chierchia, G., Link, A., & Ter Meulen, Alice (1995). Introduction to genericity. In Carlson, G. N., Pelletier, F. J. (Eds.), The Generic Book (pp.1-124). Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Li, Audrey (1997). Structures and interpretations of nominal expressions. University of South California, Los Angeles. Unpublished results.

Li, Jie (1997). Predicate types and the semantics of bare nouns in Chinese. In Xu, L. J. (Ed.), The referential properties of Chinese noun phrases (pp.61-84). Paris: Centre de Recherches Linguistiques sur l’ Asie Orientale.

Liu, D. Q. (2002). Semantic and syntactic properties of kind-denoting elements in Chinese. Chinese Language, (5), 411-422.

Lu, B. F. (2004). Distance-marking correspondence as a language universal. Chinese Language, (1), 3-15.

Shi, Y. L. (2002). Discourse Analysis of Chinese referring expressions: An application of Gundel, Hedberg, and Zacharski’s Givenness hierarchy. Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Sperber, Dan, Wilson, Deirdre (1995). Relevance: Communication and cognition (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell.

Wang, X. Q., & Wang, G. C. (2008). The semantics of bare noun phrases in Mandarin. Modern Foreign Languages, 31(2), 131-140.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968%2Fj.sll.1923156320130701.2563


  • There are currently no refbacks.


How to do online submission to another Journal?

If you have already registered in Journal A, then how can you submit another article to Journal B? It takes two steps to make it happen:

1. Register yourself in Journal B as an Author

Find the journal you want to submit to in CATEGORIES, click on “VIEW JOURNAL”, “Online Submissions”, “GO TO LOGIN” and “Edit My Profile”. Check “Author” on the “Edit Profile” page, then “Save”.

2. Submission

Go to “User Home”, and click on “Author” under the name of Journal B. You may start a New Submission by clicking on “CLICK HERE”.

We only use three mailboxes as follows to deal with issues about paper acceptance, payment and submission of electronic versions of our journals to databases: caooc@hotmail.com; sll@cscanada.net; sll@cscanada.org

Copyright © 2010 Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture
Address: 730, 77e AV, Laval, Quebec, H7V 4A8, Canada

Telephone: 1-514-558 6138
E-mail: office@cscanada.net; office@cscanada.org; caooc@hotmail.com