Erlewine, Michael Yoshitaka, 2024. “Interrogative and standard disjunction in Mandarin Chinese.”
Manuscript, University of Helsinki and National University of Singapore.

Mandarin Chinese lexically distinguishes the disjunctors in alternative questions (háishi) and in disjunctive propositions (huòzhe), reflecting a distinction that Haspelmath (2007) and others have called interrogative versus standard disjunction. I argue that the two disjunctors share their basic syntax and semantics as junction heads (J) that project their disjuncts as Roothian alternatives, which are then interpreted by a corresponding question-forming operator or existential operator. I motivate this view from island insensitivity and focus intervention effects, which I show to apply in parallel to both alternative question formation with háishi and the scope-taking of huòzhe.

Háishi also allows for number of non-interrogative uses, subject to significant speaker variation. I argue that these patterns reflect broadly two types of grammars: those where háishi syntactically enforces that its alternatives be interpreted for question-formation or similar, and those that do not. For the latter, more liberal speakers, háishi can be used non-interrogatively in the same environments that wh-phrases can be. The study and analysis of this pattern of variation leads to the conclusion that a so-called “interrogative disjunction” could be so specified via its syntactic specification or through its semantics alone, with both strategies being attested amongst speakers of Mandarin Chinese.