A-not-A Questions

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Literature Review: A-not-A Questions in Mandarin Chinese

To start with, a definition of A-not-A question should be provided. A-not-A question is a specific type of question that contains two alternatives for the answer or presupposes yes/no answers. A-not-A questions are commonly recognized as a subtype of disjunctive and alternative questions, but they are specific for particular languages, especially for Mandarin Chinese. A-not-A question creates the entire group of modality and modifiers. A-not-A question implies much more than just a request for one out of two samples of information. As a result, the modality of the A-not-A question is a separate issue of contemporary linguistics. To speak about A-not-A question in terms of Mandarin Chinese, its special place in the grammar should be indicated as long as use of A-not-A question is underpinned by certain pragmatic, as well as grammatical circumstances. Still, the A-not-A question is studied as a specific grammatical phenomenon with its paradigm as a natural feature for Mandarin Chinese.

Generally speaking, the reviewed literature indicates four groups of A-not-A questions. The first group is commonly recognized as a full A-not-A question and is regarded as a “true” A-not-A question. The other three groups are shorted versions of the original group. However, the main complexity of the A-not-A question is based on the fact that each of the groups belongs to a separate pragmatic paradigm. In other words, a difference in meaning between all of such A-not-A questions can be observed. In such way, the literature review gives an account to each group, since such findings are crucial for the research. A standard Mandarin Chinese, however, recognizes the original form only. Nevertheless, spoken forms of Mandarin proactively utilize all four types of A-not-A questions. Needless to say, their use depends heavily on a context, but some grammatical features can be detected. Thus, the literature review will give an account of such peculiarities further within the current section.

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Besides that, the A-not-A question presupposes three functions: modal, reduplicative, and focus marking. The literature pays much attention to such functions as long as they mainly determine changes in meaning and choice of A-not-A question type. In such a way, a certain modality can be rendered throughout the A-not-A question. As has been already mentioned, the A-not-A question belongs to a specific pragmatic paradigm, which makes it act as a modifier of discourse. However, such an aspect is not reviewed to a sufficient extent, while grammatical features are profoundly discussed as a modal function depends on grammatical features rather than on pragmatic contexts.

As for reduplicative function, it is attached to Mandarin Chinese, since reduplication is observed not only in pronouns. Therefore, such function makes A-not-A question grammatically strong as it is able to change not only contextual but also the grammatical meaning of a word or a phrase. Such a feature is strictly typical of Mandarin Chinese so that a further exemplification and context of the research are limited to terms of the given language. The literature review provides diverse information about this function. That is why it has to be studied and discussed in detail. Eventually, focus marking function is similar to a modal one, but focus marking should be recognized as less grammatically-driven. The same grammatical features may be used for marking different focuses. Hence, the function of the A-not-A question also belongs to a category of specific pragmatic paradigms. Unlike the function of modality, focus marking function does not render any implied meanings. Consequently, it will be discussed with a consideration of a standard discourse. Such a decision can be explained by the fact that discourse can be modified with various contexts, while a particular reaction may vary within a particular context.


Reduplication in A-not-A questions is a specific paradigm that modifies a type of question. The main principle of reduplication is based on repeating the first syllable or the entire word. In such a way, reduplication serves the function of inquiry about the truth in multiple forms (Hangstorm, n.d.). Such issues raise numerous debates within the linguistic community since various experts provide different opinions about the phenomenon of reduplication. Reduplication can be observed in many languages so it cannot be regarded as entirely unique grammatical category. On the contrary, reduplication in the A-not-A question presents a different grammatical meaning in Mandarin Chinese (Hangstorm, n.d.). Generally speaking, reduplication does not modify types of A-not-A questions in other languages. Furthermore, reduplication undergoes specific rules for not only each type of A-not-A question but for the syntax of the questioning sentence (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). Actually, reduplication modifies certain parts of the questioning sentence so that they could render a certain discourse that is reflected in a type of A-not-A question.

Thus, it is pivotal to note that A-not-A questions are not really yes/no questions as long as they can be answered differently (Hangstorm, n.d.). For instance, they can be answered with question predicate provided that the predicate was included in the initial question. In such a way, a question Do you like or not like this dog? can be answered as I do not like this dog. In Mandarin Chinese, such an answer presupposes reduplication of the verbal predicate’s initial syllable (Hangstorm, n.d.). It is a peculiar example of reduplication, which will be discussed further within the current subsection. As a result, it is possible to assume that reduplication in Mandarin Chinese serves unique functions owing to the fact that principles of question formation and use of primary, as well as auxiliary verbs, is also specific. Due to such fact, a more detailed discussion of reduplication should be provided.

Reduplication in A-not-A questions with Verbal Predicates follows a particular pattern, which determines a specific type of A-not-A question with a reduplicated form of Verbal Predicate or any other part of the questioning sentence. In case Verb Predicate is a questioned word, the entire word is reduplicated (Hangstorm, n.d.). As for negation to be questioned, only the initial syllable of Verbal Predicate is repeated. Consequently, the same tendency can be traced in the related answers: negation requires the first syllable to be reduplicated, while affirmative statement needs reduplication of the entire word (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). Hence, it is becoming increasingly apparent that reduplication can influence a type of question and related answering sentence (Hangstorm, n.d.). To be more exact, reduplication determines such types in A-not-A questions. In other languages, reduplication renders a change in categories of case, gender, number, tense, etc., while in Mandarin Chinese, reduplication becomes more sentence-driven in A-not-A questions.

In questions with a type VP-not-V, only the second, non-predicate verb is repeated. Therefore, such types presuppose a form of negation placed at the end of the sentence. Overall, a specific example of reduplication functioning in the questions with Verbal Island was provided (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). The literature review demonstrates a common consensus about relevance of such function since reduplication occurs in other aspects of Mandarin syntax. As a consequence, the discourse of A-not-A question places reduplication in circumstances that make it serve entirely different functions (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). Anyway, the relationship between the types of questions and specific patterns of reduplication is not indicated yet. Nevertheless, such a gap in knowledge can be related to a principle of dichotomy: the relation between a concept and sign does not have to be obvious and logically justified. However, a common principle of reduplication patterns can be studied in the future. To prove the relevance of findings, reduplication demonstrates a different behavior in A-not-A questions with modal and auxiliary verbs (Huang, Li & Li, 2009).

To speak about reduplication in questions with modal verbs like M-not-M, a reduplication of modal or focus morpheme can be observed. As long as modality presupposes a certain discourse, reduplication of a modal verb or focus morpheme occurs. In fact, a choice of an element to be reduplicated depends upon the context and discourse of modality. Focus marking, as well as modality, will be discussed further within the literature review, but terms of reduplication in M-not-M questions suggest that reduplication can determine a certain modality. However, the modality of A-not-A questions is an independent paradigm, but a presence of reduplication should be regarded here as a grammatical representation of a certain modality. In other words, reduplication changes the grammatical form of the question, while the discourse of the question is still determined by a modal verb (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). Reduplication marks the question as A-not-A type without the production of any impacts on a modal verb.

As for A-not-A questions with auxiliary verbs, reduplication influences focus morpheme or copula. Thus, reduplication demonstrates different extents of functioning depending upon a type of a sentence and its syntax. Consequently, it proves the evidence that reduplication is mainly a syntax-driven element of A-not-A questions in Mandarin Chinese (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). Overall, reduplication is a strong component of the A-not-A question. As a result, particular attention of the related literature to that function is sufficiently justified. Reduplication serves various determining functions in A-not-A questions, but it never produces a strong impact on the discourse of a sentence. Consequently, it has to be regarded as an element that is attached to grammatical meaning rather than a lexical one. It is certainly true as reduplication determines a particular A-not-A question as a distinct grammatical type, while discourse and context of the question are modified with more substantial morphological units.

Focus Marking

Before discussing focus marking in A-not-A questions, it is appropriate to define its term. Focus marking is commonly regarded as a specified lexical and grammatical contribution to the sentence that specifies a certain object in the speech. It is usually opposed to the presupposition of an interlocutor, but it indicates the exact object of a speaker’s speech. In such a way, a sentence I like that grey dog contains focus markers that and grey. In Mandarin Chinese, focus marking in A-not-A questions is presented with a copula shi. A general grammatical rule suggests that one copula can be used per one clause in a complex sentence (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). Such fact implies evidence that A-not-A questions demonstrate their disjunctive nature. Focus can be placed only on a single unit of the questioning sentence. Likewise, answers with a complex sentence presuppose the same single-use of shi even though the same word is focused on the second clause.

However, the use of copula is not possible in wh-questions. In fact, two alternatives are not possible (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). In addition, focus consistently undergoes a convert movement within the A-not-A question. It is only one circumstance of focus marking in patterns with a moving island. The rest of the cases cannot occur in moving islands, which makes use of focus marking in A-not-A questions peculiar (Lui, 2010). At the same time, the literature review has revealed a strong debate concerning focus marking in moving islands of A-not-A questions, since the certain focus should be placed after a shift of the island (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). However, focus marking is not determined by the placement of copula shi as long as various elements of the sentence can serve the function in A-not-A questions and even interfere in A-not-A structure. Such elements render not only grammatical but also lexical meaning to the discourse of the questioning sentence. Regarding that, specific examples have to be provided.

Some focus elements can interfere in the structure of A-not-A questions. For instance, focus-sensitive adverbs can be described as inconsistent with NQ (Lui, 2010). In case the adverb is focus-sensitive, it cannot be placed with the scope in one construction. On the contrary, it is possible for questions with auxiliary verbs that follow a pattern B-not-B. However, B-not-B questions with NQ still do not presuppose the use of focus-sensitive words (Lui, 2010). Such an aspect is remarked by the reviewed literature as it contains substantial vagueness regarding the relation between focus-sensitive parts of speech and nominative question. The related literature does not cover such issues and simply states the fact of certain relations. At the current period of the study, a matter of such relations is not strong as long as the main purpose of the literature review is to highlight a theoretical framework for a current state of knowledge about A-not-A questions in Mandarin Chinese.

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In a similar way, wh-phrases, which are recognized as focus-sensitive, cannot co-occur with copula shi. At the same time, nominative questions are consistent with wh-phrases. Otherwise, an evident paradox can be explicit: NQ is inconsistent with all elements of focus marking resulting in the fact that the entire phenomenon of focus marking in A-not-A questions would be not possible (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). It is becoming abundantly clear that focus marking in Mandarin Chinese undergoes entirely different rules. Furthermore, a strong dependence of nominative questions on wh-phrases cannot be explained, as well. Wh-phrases presuppose not only structures with questioning nouns but other parts of speech so that the relation between NQ and wh-phrases does not demonstrate anything peculiar (Lui, 2010). Moreover, it does not have to be necessarily logical or explainable. Therefore, the study simply states the fact of such a phenomenon. However, the related literate admits that A-not-A questions and wh-based questions share certain features.

A-not-A questions, as well as wh-based questions, cannot be interfered with modal construction, especially when the focus is placed on the verb (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). It can be explained by the fact that a verb cannot be lower than a modal word as long as it is semantically impossible. To the greatest extent, the same utterance cannot exist in two discourses and a single context simultaneously. In addition, the rest of the sentential modifiers, if any, produce their impacts on the discourse. The emphasis is placed on the fact that focus marking is also a syntactically-driven function of A-not-A questions. To return to the subject of similarity with wh-based questions, it is quite natural because wh-based phrases presuppose words that may modify the sentence or influence its discourse. Still, such wide functionality is possible for other types of questions, while A-not-A questions with wh-phrases do not include a possibility to make an impact on the discourse of the sentence.

Besides that, the entire sentence can be marked with a focus. In such cases, a sentence accent is rendered throughout a copula shi (Lui, 2010). Anyway, the accented sentence prioritizes a focused consistency as long as the copula has to be adjusted to a certain unit within the sentence. The focused consistency is usually preceded with the copula. As a consequence, A-not-A sentences usually presuppose a wider focus, since various words can be stressed, while B-not-B questions are limited to focus on words connected with an auxiliary verb (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). The related literature suggests that a null hypothesis should be based on the statement that wh-based phrases are similar to copula-based focuses. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that the two types of focus marking are entirely different even though they exist within the environment of the same paradigm of A-not-A question. As a matter of fact, the existence of such elements simultaneously is not possible as the focus can be shifted in A-not-A questions.

Sometimes, focus marking can be presented throughout taking A-not-A as a quantifier over two predicates. Therefore, it may obtain various forms depending upon the scope of the clause. It implies the fact that focus marking in A-not-A questions can follow various patterns of island movement, though. The related literature refutes an initial hypothesis that A-not-A questions cannot contain elements that modify a discourse of the questions (Lui, 2010). As a matter of fact, it is certainly true as long as the movement of islands, as well as shifting of the scope, presupposes an accent on a different word. For example, questions Do you like that grey dog? with focuses on that and grey can be answered as I like these white cats. It is becoming increasingly apparent the answer is semantically and contextually correct. As for its grammar, it is not changed, since copula shi will be adjoined to the related marked words of the answer in Mandarin Chinese.

On the contrary, wh-based questions do not move their islands in the same way. Such an issue mainly relates to a matter of discourse rather than grammar. That is why the movement of the island occurs under specific circumstances that do not occur in Mandarin Chinese on a regular basis (Huang, Li & Li, 2009). Eventually, a complexity of focus marking function should be admitted. However, such complexity can be noted in terms of grammar, while its semantic meaning is explicit and can be easily justified. It is a general tendency for Mandarin Chinese because the same evidence was traced in the function of reduplication. Thus, the literature review provides a discussion of the modal function. A-not-A questions were claimed not to modify a discourse of speech, but a presence of modality may refute such a hypothesis.


Modality is known to be an entirely different paradigm in any language and Mandarin Chinese is not an exception. A-not-A questions with modal verbs or any other modal constructions presuppose involvement of one of three syntagmatic elements: conjunction reduction, anaphoric ellipsis, and reduplication. As long as reduplication has been discussed by a literature review as a separate function of A-not-A questions, it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that reduplication obtains the lowest degree of modality as its influence on the semantic meaning of a sentence is not considerable. As for conjunction reduction and anaphoric ellipsis, they are more discourse-driven than reduplication. That is why they are mutually related. However, modality in A-not-A questions is determined by the context, while the use of modal verbs or any other modal structures in A-not-A questions render additional modality. That is why, the environment of A-not-A questions can be regarded as a modifier of modality in Mandarin Chinese (Lui, 2010).

However, modality in A-not-A questions is not limited to the three syntagmatic elements. Some changes can be observed in structural and phonological aspects of modal words or phrases. In such a way, negations [A-Neg] are adjoined to C0 units in order to finalize the question (Lui, 2010). At the same time, such processes render their own modal meaning in spite of the discourse of the questions. In other words, A-not-A question with a particular discourse may render some primary meaning, while amended modal words plus [A-Neg]+ C0 can imply entirely different meanings (Lui, 2010). That is why grammatical peculiarities of A-not-A questions can be regarded as modifiers of discourse even though a context places its own, primary impact on the question. Nevertheless, such evidence is not frequent and, consequently, the related literature does not pay much attention to it, while basic syntagmatic elements are discussed.

To speak about conjunction reductions, they are applied to full forms of A-not-A questions only. Moreover, a full A-not-A question may include multiple modal clauses so that every single reduction of conjunction should occur accordingly. Thus, such a phenomenon is quite natural for Mandarin Chinese. Conversely, conjunction reduction belongs to grammatical nature, since it should be placed for every evidence of modality. Otherwise, it would be required once per utterance. Such a tendency can be traced throughout the entire literature review of the A-not-A question. Certain functional features of A-not-A questions produce double impact: render a relative influence regarding discourse and represent a particular function in terms of grammatical meaning. To return to the subject of conjunction reduction, initial reduction of conjunctions creates anaphoric ellipses (Lui, 2010). Hence, the anaphoric ellipsis is a result of conjunction reduction, but it should be regarded as an independent syntagmatic element as long as it renders entirely different semantic meanings.

Taking such points into consideration, the literature review provides information that A-not-A questions are partially able to render certain modal meaning. Anyway, all three syntagmatic elements of modality are grammatically-driven, while particular modal words or phrases determine the discourse of the question. To the greatest extent, grammatical units cannot determine the discourse but comparatively influence it. Discourse is determined with the context that belongs to extra-linguistic reality which is why the impacts of grammatically-driven units are not sufficiently strong. Regarding the given topic, a strong involvement of additional units can be confirmed. Modality can be shown via modal words and phrases without the use of additional grammatical elements. Consequently, it is worth saying that modal words and phrases are not grammatically-underpinned. In general, A-not-A questions require the use of grammatically, as well as semantically dependent units in order to convey a particular meaning.

Conjunction reduction and anaphoric ellipses can coexist in one complex sentence as long as only one grammatical feature of modality can be present per a single clause in A-not-A question (Lui, 2010). Regardless of the fact that such pieces of evidence rare, their theoretical possibility can be confirmed. Complex sentences with multiple clauses do not render any additional value to the modality so that the same rule is applicable to A-not-A questions (Lui, 2010). As for reduplication, it can be present in a separate clause of a complex question, which does not lead to semantic confusion occurrence. It is certainly true as long as reduplication is also a syntagmatic element of modality in A-not-A questions. Therefore, it cannot co-occur with conjunction reduction or anaphoric ellipsis in one clause. It is appropriate to make a general comment on the fact that syntagmatic elements of modality are supposed to be grammatically-driven in A-not-A questions. Such a statement can be explained by the fact that A-not-A questions obtain a nature of disjunctive and alternative questions, which requires a distinct grammatical marker.

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Modality in A-not-A questions is a specific function in Mandarin Chinese, and its certain peculiarities have been indicated by the literature review (Lui, 2010). First of all, it is necessary to place the emphasis on heavy reliance on syntagmatic elements that occur to be grammatically-driven, as well as means of reduplication and focus marking. As a consequence, such a tendency cannot be recognized as a coincidence. Particular functions have been traced giving an appropriate account of modality in A-not-A questions of Mandarin Chinese in the related literature. The literature review has provided a null hypothesis that the main functions of A-not-A questions cannot influence their discourse. In contrast, the literature review has outlined an assumption that such functions can make certain impacts on their discourse. As a result, the most appropriate statement regarding the given issue should admit that the discourse of Mandarin Chinese A-not-A questions modality is partially modified with particular grammatical elements.

All in all, the literature review has covered three peculiar aspects of A-not-A questions in Mandarin Chinese. They are reduplication, focus marking, and modality. Reduplication has been revealed to render the specific types of A-not-A questions throughout the degree of morpheme repetition. Thus, reduplication partially identifies a discourse of the question as long as each type of A-not-A question can be used in a certain context. Moreover, reduplication can be traced not only in pronouns but also in other parts of speech of Mandarin Chinese so that A-not-A questions could be modified with certain words that are adjoined to reduplicated morphemes. As for focus marking, it also utilizes specific grammatical features in order to place the emphasis on a certain word within the A-not-A question. In the same way, modality in A-not-A questions is rendered throughout certain modal words or phrases and grammatical syntagmatic features, such as reduplication, anaphoric ellipsis, and conjunction reduction. In some cases, modality does not need such units, but the most frequent evidence of modal A-not-A questions utilizes three basic syntagmatic elements.

The literature review managed to indicate a theoretical framework for a study of A-not-A questions in Mandarin Chinese. However, certain limitations are present. The related literature provides information regarding specific aspects of A-not-A questions, while its basic findings are not always covered. That is why the current theoretical framework is particularly oriented at a study of more profound issues related to A-not-A questions. Overall, the literature provides a meaningful basis for further specified research as long as details of basic functioning of A-not-A questions are not sufficiently covered. It is a certain limitation to a complex study, while advanced research can be provided with sufficient information about current trends regarding the subject.

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