Towards a discourse semantics-informed grammatical description of the interrogative mood in Chinese

Pin Wang

Shanghai Jiao Tong University


Chinese is a language that is considered ‘difficult’ by a lot of non-speakers. Very often the difficulty is reflected in the fact that descriptions about certain aspects of Chinese grammar do not agree with each other. This presentation focuses on one such aspect – the interrogative mood in the interpersonal grammar of Chinese. There are a good number of ways to ask questions in Chinese; therefore, many accounts of the grammar about asking questions have been put forward, predictably with disagreements and even disparities. Previous descriptions have classified Chinese interrogatives into two, three, four, five, or more types, each based on different grounds. This presentation provides a study of the enactment of interpersonal meaning and its lexicogrammatical realisations in terms of soliciting knowledge in dialogic exchanges, with text-based, axis-oriented, trinocular perspectives. The description of Chinese interrogative mood takes the interpersonal discourse semantic system of negotiation (Berry, 1981; Martin, 1992; Martin & Rose, 2007) as point of departure, and in the meanwhile takes into consideration the highly relevant discourse semantic system of engagement (Martin & White, 2005), which is mainly realised through the grammatical system of modal assessment and interacts in significant ways with the interrogative mood. Comparative analyses are also provided in this presentation, both intralingually between Mandarin the standardised modern Chinese and other varieties of Chinese, and interlingually with English and Spanish where applicable (Martin et al., in prep). This study highlights and makes explicit the principles and methodologies informed by SFL in describing, modelling, and comparing grammar in particular languages, giving privilege to paradigmatic relations and also motivating systemic choices from structural realisations.



Berry, M. (1981). Systemic linguistics and discourse analysis: a multi-layered approach to exchange structure. In M. Coulthard & M. Montgomery (Eds.), Studies in Discourse Analysis (pp. 120–145). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Martin, J. R. (1992). English Text: System and Structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Martin, J. R. & Rose, D. (2007). Working with Discourse: Meaning Beyond the Clause (2nd ed.). London: Continuum.

Martin, J. R. & White, P. (2005). The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. London: Palgrave.

Martin, J. R., Quiroz, B., Wang, P. & Zhu, Y. (in prep). Systemic Functional Grammar: Another Step into the Theory – Grammatical Description. Beijing: Higher Education Press.