An Enthymematic Account of the Deduction of the Negative Meaning of the Chinese Shenme-based Rhetorical Question Construction

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One controversy in the study of the Chinese shenme ‘what’-based rhetorical question (shenme-RQ for short) is how it takes on a negative interpretation. This paper attempts to apply enthymeme or rhetorical syllogism to the deduction of negative meaning of the shenme-RQ. Triggered by the shenme-RQ, or one of its words or phrases, the hearer extracts the explicit premise, fills in the premise that is implicit either in the context or in her or his encyclopedic knowledge, and deduces the conclusion, the negative meaning of the shenme-RQ. According to what premises are left out, the paper also explores the deduction patterns of the negative meaning of shenme-RQs and proposes a procedure for obtaining the negative interpretation. That said, the negative meaning of the shenme-RQ will be entrenched in the mind of its users and conventionalized in the Mandarin Chinese community via repeated use.

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