Temporal Adverbs in Modern Standard Chinese : A Decompositional Inquiry

Jens Karlsson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


Temporal adverbs (时间副词 shíjiān fùcí) in Modern Standard Chinese (MSC) are a group of words assuming the role of adverbial modifier (状语 zhuàngyǔ), expressing a temporal notion. Both characteristics are problematic; adverbs (副词 fùcí) are defined as a word class with the sole function of assuming the role of adverbial modifier, but several words traditionally categorized as temporal adverbs have syntactic functions outside this scope. Moreover, several words traditionally categorized as (temporal) nouns ((时间)名词 (shíjiān) míngcí) and adjectives (形容词 xíngróngcí) may also assume the role of adverbial modifier and express a temporal notion. In the present work, an extensive investigation on the syntactic distribution of a representative sample of words expressing a temporal notion when assuming the role of adverbial modifier is conducted. It reveals a continuum of words ranging from nominal to adjectival based on their overall syntactic distribution, thereby sheding considerable light on the word class theoretical issues surrounding temporal adverbs in MSC. The second characteristic concerns the concept of temporality. Proceeding from a sketch of the fundamental features of linguistic temporality, a representative sample of temporal adverbs are subjected to a decompositional semantic analysis. It is demonstrated that the meaning of individual temporal adverbs is attained by means of 1) encoding certain semantic components, and 2) encoding a particular permutational arrangement of the semantic components. While, seen as a whole group of words, temporal adverbs in MSC encode very different semantic content, several entities express disparate meaning only due to the permutational arrangements of the underlying semantic content. The decompositional approach seems to have considerable explanatory power concerning the meaning of temporal adverbs in MSC, and it is also hinted that it may provide a tool for establishing a theoretical connection between semantic encoding and syntactic function.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Centre for Languages and Literature
  • Holmer, Arthur, Supervisor
Award date2010 Oct 15
ISBN (Print)978-91-7473-030-2
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2010-10-15
Time: 10:15
Place: Kulturens auditorium, Tegnérsplatsen 4, Lund

External reviewer(s)

Name: Matthews, Stephen
Title: Associate Professor
Affiliation: University of Hong Kong


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature

Free keywords

  • decompositionality
  • semantics
  • temporality
  • Chinese
  • word class theory
  • temporal adverbs


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