Semantic and discourse constraints on Chinese Bei-passives
Issue: Vol 8 No. 2 (2012)
Journal: Linguistics and the Human Sciences
The semantic function of the 被 bei passive sentence has been characterized in various ways. It has been claimed by some scholars that its primary function is to indicate that the referent of the subject, the speaker or the hearer is adversely affected by the action, event or state represented in the sentence. It has also been claimed that the construction can sometimes be used neutrally, without any adversity implications. It has further been claimed that it can sometimes be used with positive implications. But little attempt has been made in the past to show exactly when the construction acquires which of these three implications (i.e., adversative, neutral, and positive). This paper attempts to answer that question. It proposes that the semantic/discourse function of the bei-passive sentence is to indicate that the referent of the subject, the speaker (or the person whose point of view (s)he is representing) or the hearer receives a major impact which is above a certain threshold from the action, event, or state represented in the sentence. The impact can be either direct, as is the case with high-impact verbs (e.g., 打 da ‘hit’, 开除 kaichu ‘fire’), indirect (as is the case with low or no impact verbs such as 看见 kanjian ‘see’, 恨 hen ‘hate’), or both. It shows that a generalization that is based on ‘EITHER a major direct impact OR a major indirect impact’ does not work. It proposes that the semantic/discourse function of the bei-passive sentence is to indicate that the SUM of the direct and indirect impacts that the referent of the subject, the speaker (or the person whose point of view (s)he is representing) or the hearer receives is at or above the threshold for a major impact.
Author: Wenfang FAN, Susumu KUNO
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