The particle ba in Mandarin Chinese as a pragmatic marker of weak commitment

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


The study of pragmatic markers attracts many scholars within the field of pragmatics, in particular in the area of radical pragmatics. Pragmatic markers are often perceived by speakers as having vague meanings that are hard to pin down in words. A pragmatic marker marker also often seem to contribute in different ways to the explicit or implicit message that the speaker wants to convey depending on the context. The particle ba in Mandarin Chinese is used in questions, as in Ta shi yisheng ba? She is a doctor, right?, in declarative utterances, as in Ta shi yisheng ba She is a doctor, I guess and in imperatives as in Zou ba! Lets go!. It can also be used after other pragmatic markers such as hao good and xing okay. According to Lu (2004) it has several uses, among which can be counted: to indicate suggestion or request, prior knowledge (in questions), agreement and irrelevance. It is also used as a discourse marker after topic clauses. Li and Thompson (1981, pp. 307) argue that it has the semantic function of expressing solicit agreement. In this paper, I discuss not only what, but also how, the marker ba communicates. I use a relevance-theoretic framework (Sperber & Wilson 1995) to account for all the uses of ba and show that it does not encode a concept, but a procedure. Procedural expressions such as pragmatic markers constrain or direct the inferential phase of comprehension and thus save the hearer effort when interpreting an utterance, reducing the amount of effort needed to derive explicatures, higher-level explicatures or implicatures of utterances (see for example Carston 1999, 2002 and Wilson and Sperber 1993). I propose that ba contributes to the derivation of higher-level explicatures that indicate weak commitment towards either the truth of the proposition or towards the speech act (in imperatives). Examples from a corpus of telephone conversations between Mandarin speakers is used to support my claim.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Specific Languages
Original languageSwedish
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch
Event10th International Pragmatics Conference, 2007 - Göteborg, Gothenburg, Sweden
Duration: 2007 Jul 82007 Jul 13


Conference10th International Pragmatics Conference, 2007

Related activities

Ljungqvist, M. (Presenter)
2007 Jul 82007 Jul 13

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation

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