Erlewine, Michael Yoshitaka, 2020. “Mandarin shì clefts and the syntax of discourse congruence.”
Manuscript, National University of Singapore.

This paper investigates the syntax and semantics of the Mandarin Chinese morpheme shì in its focus particle use. Shì associates with an in-situ focus and expresses cleft semantics. I argue that shì is a sentential focus particle subject to a requirement to adjoin as low as possible. This makes Mandarin shì notable as it expresses cleft semantics without separating the focused phrase from the rest of the clause, as is cross-linguistically common in the expression of clefts.

I then show that shì is disallowed in certain reduced clauses, unlike ‘only.’ I propose that this restriction on the distribution of shì is due to its semantics, together with a particular proposal for the syntax of discourse congruence: the semantics of shì makes reference to the Question Under Discussion (QUD), unlike ‘only,’ and access to the QUD is mediated by a functional head in the high CP periphery. Shì is thus unavailable in reduced clauses which do not project this high functional layer.