Represent an issue as open: Mandarin discourse particle ba

Yu'an Yang


The Mandarin sentence final particle ba has been described as expressing uncertainty or soliciting agreement in declaratives ("weakening" an assertion, Han 1995, Li 2006 a.o.). However, ba-interrogatives appear to be "strengthening" a question to a demand: "you must answer this question," similar to the cornering effects associated with or not questions (Biezma 2009 a.o.). To account for this "weak" and "strong" contrast, some have postulated a lexical ambiguity: ba1 in declaratives and ba2 in interrogatives (Chao 1968, Zhu 1999). In this paper, I discuss new data showing that ba-declaratives are not always less forceful and ba-interrogatives are not always more forceful than their unmarked counterparts, which challenges current theories. I propose that, uniformly, the use of ba represents an issue as open. The "weak" and "strong" effects are results of ba interacting with the discourse context.

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