Two disjunctions in Mandarin Chinese
Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine
July 2017
 

Mandarin Chinese has two disjunctors, háishi and huòzhe. Alternative questions use háishi whereas logical, boolean disjunction is expressed with huòzhe. Building on previous decompositional analyses of disjunction, I propose that háishi spells out the junctor head J which projects its disjuncts as Roothian alternatives, whereas huòzhe spells out a version of the J head that must be existential closed, forming a quantifier. This account contrasts from previous work on disjunction in Mandarin, which requires hàishi to move at LF or which requires the two disjunctors to differ in the size of disjuncts. Evidence comes from focus intervention effects and island (in)sensitivity.

I also consider environments where háishi and huòzhe are interchangeable, with disjunctive or conjunctive interpretation, which are also precisely where wh-phrases are used quantificationally. I offer a semantic characterization for these environments and argue against possible syntactic accounts. The distributions and interpretations of these disjunctors and wh-phrases in Mandarin Chinese form an argument for the two-dimensional Roothian Alternative Semantics framework over similar one-dimensional frameworks such as Hamblin semantics, from an empirical domain other than focus.
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Reference: lingbuzz/003575
(please use that when you cite this article)
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keywords: disjunction, alternative questions, wh-quantification, alternative semantics, mandarin chinese, semantics
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