Making Sense of Grammar
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What is the semantic contrast between the construction 差點 and 差點沒?

asked Apr 18 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by admin (19,380 points)
edited Apr 20 by admin

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Regarding the “cha dian mei” (差點沒) + VP construction, some scholars have studied it and put forward a number of relative hypotheses. Expect theory (Zhu, 1959) indicates that there are two basic rules for the usage of “cha dian mei” (差點沒) :

(1) If the speaker hopes something can be realized, a positive sentence will be uttered to express a negative meaning. On the contrary, a negative sentence will be utilized to express a positive meaning.

e.g. 差點買到(=沒買到),差點沒買到(買到)

(2) If the speaker does not want something to become realized, 差點 and 差點沒 both convey positive meanings.

e.g. 差點弄丢了(沒丢),差點沒弄丢(沒丢)

Zhu also listed out some sample sentences that apply the “cha dian mei” (差點沒) + result construction.

e.g. A.差點沒及格; B.差點沒買到了; C.差點沒輸了。

In sentence A, it is sure that the speaker hopes 「及格」 can be realized, so sentence A expresses the positive meaning that 「及格」 is the final result. In sentence B, 「買到」is again presented with a positive meaning because the speaker hopes he or she can successfully buy what he or she wants. Yet, in sentence C,「 輸了」 is not what the speaker hopes to witness, thus, “cha dian mei” (差點沒) construction is adopted to point out the fact that he or she did not lose.

However, Expect Theory cannot be applied to all cases. Ambiguity still exists when the speaker’s attitude is neutral. For example, two teams are playing basketball, both sides hope to put the ball into the opponent's basket. In this case, if a player says “cha dian mei tou jin qu” (差點沒投進去), the utterance has two distinctive meanings for the teams:

「投進得分」for the attacking team; 「差一點兒,沒投進去」for the defending team.

In short, Chinese learners can understand the appropriate semantic meanings of “cha dian mei” (差點沒) construction based on the context offered.

Meanwhile, other scholars have put forward some analyses, for instance, in pragmatics,“cha dian mei” (差點沒) present rejoice in the case that something bad has been escaped by sheer luck (Zhang, 2004); while in phonetics, “cha dian mei” (差點沒) can be divided into “cha dian (差點)/ mei (沒)” or “cha dian mei/ (差點沒)”, in which the same phrase is associated with a dissimilar pause and meaning at the same time: the preceding one means「差點(兒),某人最後沒有做到某件事/某件事沒有發生」while the latter one coveys the meaning of「某人差點沒有做到某件事,但最後還是做了/某件事幾乎沒有發生,但最後還是發生了」. (董, 2001)

answered Apr 18 by admin (19,380 points)
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