A dynamic approach to short answers: A case study of Mandarin wh-conditionals

Haoze Li (NYU)


This project is a modest attempt to bring together two lines of research on wh-questions to shed light on Mandarin wh-conditionals. On one hand, many studies argue that short answers to wh-questions are not reducible to ellipsis and hence must be semantically represented (Groenendijk & Stokhof 1989; Jacobson 2016; Xiang 2016). On the other hand, Honcoop (1998) and Haida (2007) suggest that wh-phrases have dynamic discourse contributions in the sense of introducing discourse referents. In this project, I propose that the discourse referents introduced by a wh-phrase can be used to model the short answer to the corresponding wh-question. I'll show how this proposal provides a novel analysis for Mandarin wh-conditionals, as in (1), which are conditionals with co-referring wh-phrases showing up in the antecedent clause and the consequent clause (jiu is a conditional marker).

(1) Shei xian lai, shei jiu xian chi.
who first enter who then first eat
'Whoever enters first, she eats first.'