An Analysis of the Ambiguity-triggering Erho Expressions in Sichuan Dialect of Mandarin Chinese

Tao Xie


There is a vulgar expression in Sichuan Dialect of Mandarin Chinese that is of particular interests to the research of Person agreement in Chinese languages. Erho, literally translated as ‘son deceives’, when used without other augments it denotes a strong presupposition that the addressee is telling the truth concerning whatever he/she has claimed prior to the utterance of Erho in question. However, the truth-telling presupposition can be imposed on the speaker when there is an indefinite wh-phrase preceding Erho. In this paper, I argue that Erho expression exemplifies the assumption that there is another A-position located above TP but below CP, i.e., αP. Following the framework of Miyagawa’s (2010) Agreement languages vs. Discourse-configurational languages, it is discovered that Erho expression, along with the ambiguity of Person agreement observed in the various patterns of it, in Sichuan Dialect can be properly accounted for assuming there is a possibility that a language can blend the attributes of both Agreement languages and Discourse-configurational languages. Chinese languages, including Sichuan Dialect, may exploit A’-movement to execute Topicalization or Focalization as topic/focus feature on C triggers such movements, suggesting Chinese languages are Agreement languages. On the other hand, in the context of Erho expression in Sichuan Dialect, the Topic/Focus can be nominals taking A-position, indicating topic/focus feature is indeed inherited by lower heads, akin to Discourse-configurational languages like Japanese. As to the ambiguous Person agreement specification, I argue that it simply roots in whether or not αP is projected. That when αP is projected, φ-probe, together with focus/topic feature, enters into Agree relation with the nominal taking up Spec, αP. If αP is not projected, φ-probe then identifies whatever sits in Spec, TP as its Goal. Therefore, two distinct scenarios with respect to Person agreement is possible in Erho expression.

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