SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Wang, Wen (2021) Tense, Aspect and Modality in Modern Shanghainese as evidenced in the missionary linguistic and translation works on/in modern Shanghainese. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

Text - Submitted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

Download (4MB) | Preview


This dissertation is a description of tense, aspect and modality in modern Shanghainese (1843 ~ 1950), based on investigations on a self-collected database of missionary linguistic and translation works in Shanghainese, with special reference to the realisation of the subjunctive meaning. Verb-ending particles, sentence-final particles and temporal adverbs are the main objects of the study in discussing temporal grammatical encoding. The study proposes that the main function of verb-ending particles is to provide situation time at a sentential level. Particular focus is also placed on the semantics of two sentence-final particles: tse and keh. It is proposed that the tse is used within a sentence cluster to bring out a situation and is used at the end of a sentence to present a conclusion, a summary remark, or an end to a stretch of description. Both uses contribute to the discourse organization by introducing a current reference time point. Keh encodes a congruence of two usages: past time or assertation. The discussion of temporal adverbs focuses on reporting the examination of relevant data. This includes the distribution of temporal adverbs, their classification, and a comparison with contemporary Shanghainese and Mandarin. While describing the adverbs that occur both in modern Shanghainese and in contemporary Shanghainese and Mandarin, other adverbial expressions unique to modern Shanghainese are also reported with examples. The dissertation then studies modal expressions, including modal auxiliary verbs and modal adverbs. Modal auxiliary verbs are examined in two aspects: epistemic and non-epistemic modality. It is proposed that epistemic auxiliary verbs in Shanghainese can override the meaning of verb-ending particles by changing realis situations to irrealis ones or enhancing the possibility of irrealis situations. The discussion of the modal adverbs focuses on describing the modal expressions that are common to contemporary Shanghainese and Mandarin but also identifies expressions unique in modern Shanghainese. The investigation to subjunctivity focuses on the realisation of the subjunctive meaning in the data, as an amalgamation of tense, aspect and modal features. Subjunctivity refers to possible events that may occur, which I purpose that two factors contribute to the situation with subjunctive meaning: the state of situations in the actual world and other possible worlds and the relation with actuality. It is found that the temporal and modal expressions discussed previously contribute to the realisation model of the subjunctive meaning, while contextual information can also play this role in some cases. Throughout the dissertation, theoretical discussions are exemplified with examples in modern Shanghainese obtained through database search. As records of modern Shanghainese, which is very different from contemporary Shanghainese and is no longer used in spoken form, are only accessible as digitized files or as rare copies in special libraries outside China, this study is a first attempt in converting scanned scripts into a searchable database (of around 200,000 Chinese characters) and in conducting a grammatical study of Shanghainese utilizing the database. It is also one of the first attempts in studying the realisation of subjunctive meaning in Shanghainese.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Yan Jiang
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2022 15:49

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item