Modality Without Modals: The Case of Interrogatives in Early Vernacular Texts

Part of the Frontiers in Chinese Linguistics book series (FiCL, volume 5)


When researching the system of interrogative sentences and interrogative pronouns in early vernacular Chinese texts (early 白話 báihuà), one is surprised about the richness of rhetorical sentence patterns and the large array of question pronouns employed in the textual material. This is especially true of texts which feature a large number of dialogues, such as the 語錄 yǔlù (Recorded Sayings) literature of the early 禪 Chán School. In this paper I will analyze some aspects of this complex system, with an emphasis on the 10th century 祖堂集 Zǔtáng jí (Collection of the Patriarchs’ Hall; short: ZTJ). As will be demonstrated, rhetorical questions are an essential part of the system of modal markers in this type of literature.


Modality Rhetorical questions Late Medieval Chinese Zutang ji 祖堂集 Chinese interrogative pronouns Historical linguistics 

Abbreviations and Symbols


Indicates a rhetorical question


Ancient Chinese (pre-Hàn Chinese)


Aspectual marker/aspect


Buddhist Hybrid Chinese






Directional complement


Early Medieval Chinese




Late Medieval Chinese


Medieval Chinese


Modern Mandarin


Modal adverb/modal marker


Modal (final) particle


Modal verb


Question marker


Rhetorical question


See Takakusu (1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933)


See Yanagida (1984)


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Copyright information

© Peking University Press and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ghent UniversityGhentBelgium

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