This dissertation examines the particle ye in the IV century BCE Chinese Guodian manuscripts by providing a synchronic analysis of its functions and a diachronic hypothesis relating all functions to focus marking.
I have subdivided the around 600 occurrences of ye into four main functions: focus marker, topic marker, clause connection marker, predicate nominal marker.
Among these main functions the last three have long been recognized, even though often with different labels, in the literature, while the first, the focus function, has never been fully articulated as a separate category. Relying on systematic typological analyses that recognize regular connections among focus and a series of semantic operators and constructions, I have been able to find a significant degree of correlation between the focus usage of ye and the occurrence of negatives, sentences with universal quantifiers and inversions.
While the usage of ye as a topic marker has been widely recognized, and its tendency to co-occur with zhi and qi noun phrases in topic position has been equally noticed, my investigation is the first to provide a systematic analysis of the kind of elements occurring as topics marked by ye and to analyze its presence vs. absence of ye as a topic marker in a given text, as well as to propose a diachronic path connecting focus marking to topic marking. Focus and topic are connected by the common feature of contrastiveness.
In the study of ye as clause connector I make use of discourse analysis, and especially of Schiffrin's and Fraser's studies, in conceptualizing the function of ye as a fully optional discourse marker, and more specifically as a relationship marker that signals the relationship of the basic message being conveyed by the current utterance to some prior message, encoding contrast, elaboration and inference. Furthermore, on the basis of passages from the Guodian corpus I argue for the possibility of a diachronic development from ye marking contrast and adversativity (which are basic focus features) to ye as a clause connector marking temporal, conditional and causative relationships, as it has been recently shown by typologists and cognitive linguists that there is a tight connection between adversative, concessive, conditional, temporal and causal meaning.
As for ye's most frequent and prominent function, nominal predicate marker, I have tested and validated on the GD corpus a recent typological hypothesis by Stassen, the major expert on intransitive predication, concerning the existence of a category of particle copulas, as well as his observation that particle copulas tend to alternate with zero copula encoding, and it is through the interpretation of ye as a particle copula having its origin in a variety of markers such as topicalization, backgrounding, or contrastive focus for subjects or predicates that it is related ultimately to focus marking.