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Auteur: Yuan SHEN

Expectation, Presupposition, and the Semantics of -Le

Abstract/Résumé: In this paper we study the meaning of the Chinese sentence final particle –le, the connection between the “change of state” (COS) reading and “contrary to expectation”(COE) reading (Sybesma 1999) and the nature of the COE reading. Drawing on the notion of speaker presupposition and common ground, Soh (2009) proposed that both readings involve changes and gave an analysis of –le as a transition marker. Different from some previous accounts which set COE reading apart from COS reading on the (non)temporal basis (Konig 1977), Soh argued that both interpretations involve changes across a temporal domain. We point out that the use of -le is more varied than Soh assumes. We demonstrate that -le with COE reading does not have to presuppose a prior "negative state" and hence doesn't have to be built on the temporal structure. In addition, it is not always the hearer’s expectation contravened in –le sentences. The expectation involved could be the speaker’s or the hearer’s. It could be about the real world or possible worlds. The latter explains cases when the described state of affairs appears as part of the common ground, contrary to Sybesma’s claim that the described state of affairs has to be new to the hearer. We propose that under the term “contravention of expectation” we distinguish three kinds: 1) contrary to expectation; 2) fall short of expectation; 3) exceed expectation. In Chinese, the focus particle JURAN (“unexpectedly”), CAI (“just”) and DOU (“already”) correspond respectively to these three kinds. We find -le optional in the case of JURAN, unacceptable with CAI and obligatory with DOU. The use of –le in JURAN sentences cannot be associated with the notion of expectation. Besides, JURAN always suggests contravention of the expectation of the speaker in the real world (unlike CAI and DOU). The contrastive behavior of –le with DOU and CAI lends evidence to the argument that –le with COE reading is associated with exceeded expectations.