Natural Language Use vs. Textbook Representations: A Case Study of JIU for the Teaching of Chinese as a Second/Heritage Language


Xiang Xuehua

University of Illinois at Chicago

Using a database of 400 minutes of authentic written/oral discourse, I present an analysis of jiu, proposing a unified account through the dual-lens of discourse analysis and cognitive grammar (Langacker, 1987, 2001).  

Preverbal particle jiu is a high-frequency particle in Mandarin that fulfills many interactional and discourse functions. A preliminary analysis of a subset of 200-minutes oral data (407 tokens of jiu) shows that a large percentage of jiu instances signal relational processes (148 tokens, 36.4%), including sequential relationships (94, 23.1%) and hypothetical reasoning (54, 13.3%). Jiu also occurs in non-relational instances where it expresses emphasis (77, 18.9%), nominal focus (34, 8.4%), temporality (16, 3.9%), and signals restriction (14, 3.4%).

Despite its range of functions, Chinese-as-a-second/heritage-language textbooks introduce jiu together with cai, forming a contrastive pair centering on temporality, with jiu expressing “earlier-than-expectedness,” and cai, “later-than-expectedness” (e.g., Integrated Chinese, T. Yao et al., 2005; Me and China, Q. He et al., 2007). The focus on the temporal meaning of jiu represents a mismatch with natural language use, since its temporal use comprises only 3.9% of all tokens in this database.

Building on and reexamining previous research on jiu (e.g., Lai, 1999; Liu, 1997, Biq, 1988), I propose zero proximity as the core meaning of jiu, a meaning conceptualized spatially, temporally, and metaphorically. Concurring with Liu (1997), which argues that the etymological root of jiu as a motion verb contributes to its primary use as a conjunctive equivalent to English ‘then’, I however argue that Liu’s account does not readily capture the senses of logical directness, sufficient condition, concession, as well as patterns of emotive negativity. I show that jiu historically denoted physical approximation to a pre-determined location, as Liu (1997) suggests, but inherent in the motion is the sense of “economy”, i.e. motion executed for convenience, ease, and economical uses of resources, often so against one’s volition.  These verbal features give rise to the contemporary core meaning of jiu; this core meaning underlies the expression of various types of physical, perceptual, and logical “brevity”, such as the expression of immediacy, promptness, convenience, sufficient condition, “earlier-than-expectedness,” and single focusing.  Example (1) illustrates: 

(1) [Xiao Cui Shuo Shi ‘Xiao Cui’s Talk Show’: Episode Shengyin ‘Sounds’]

((Jin talks about tape-recording a special type of fish))

Jin: Ruguo tian yi liang, tamen kengding jiu bu fasheng-le.

       If          sky once be:bright they      surely         JIU NEG vocalize-LE

‘As soon as the day breaks, they (=the fish) will surely stop vocalizing.’

In (1), jiu in the main clause marks a preconditioned response of the fish to the breaking of dawn. The surface-level [trigger-response] relation between the two clauses is a concrete manifestation of the core meaning of ‘zero proximity’, i.e. temporal brevity and lack of intermediate activity between triggering event and response.   

I present pedagogical implications of the study for the development of discourse-based pedagogical materials to bridge the gap in current textbook treatments of jiu and other related discursive features.