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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton January 14, 2021

Chinese does have independent tense elements

Zai and guo as tense markers

Zhiyi Zhang and Li Shikun
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies

Abstract

Previous research on Chinese tense indicates that Chinese has either null tense or no tense. However, the present study suggests that the conclusions of previous studies regarding Chinese tense are either against the syntactic truth or illogical. The present study provides new evidence to support that Chinese has two independent tense elements, zai and guo, which clearly indicate present and past tense, contrary to the traditional assumption that they are aspectual markers. From the perspective of grammaticalization, both zai and guo witnessed grammaticalization from the spatial concept to the temporal concept. The semantic evidence shows that zai and guo are semantically different from the aspectual markers zhe and le and convey the meaning of time location. The fact that both zai and guo are allowed in negation but not permitted in non-finite structure provides syntactic evidence that they are tense markers. However, the present study also suggests there can be two different zai and guo; zai and guo used separately and independently and zai and guo used with zhe and le. In the latter case, zai is a time adverbial and guo is an aspectual marker. The existence of independent tense markers in Chinese also shows that Chinese may have at least four different mechanisms to anchor tense.


Corresponding author: Zhiyi Zhang, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing, China, e-mail:

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Published Online: 2021-01-14
Published in Print: 2021-02-23

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