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Origin and evolution of question-words in Archaic Chinese: A cognitive approach

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image of Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale

This paper examines and explains how the various forms of question words arose in the Archaic period (11th-2nd c. BC) as well as their evolution. Four main claims are made: 1) The appearance and diffusion of the disyllabic ruhe, naihe, "how", "why" are due to a lexicalization process; 2) The specific forms for "when" (he) tend to disappear towards the end of the Late Archaic period; 3) The general pronoun/adverb he expands its territory as time goes by; 4) During the Archaic period, the system became more and more complex, with the increase of polysem and synonyms. Conclusions are drawn concerning the cognitive contours of the conceptual categories of the interrogative words: PERSON> OBJECT> PROCESS / QUALITY> SPACE> TIME. The transfer of meanings from one domain to another suggests that reduction in semantic complexity is far from being criteria!.


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