Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Exploring counterfactuals in English and Chinese

Zhaoyi Wu, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Bloom (1981) argued that English has a salient counterfactual marker--the subjunctive to express hypothetical and implicational meanings whereas Chinese has no distinct lexical, grammatical or intonational device to signal entry into the counterfactual realm. He suggested that the lack of a linguistic means to mark counterfactuality in Chinese influences the cognitive behavior of speakers of Chinese: they are less likely to reason counterfactually. To test his hypothesis, he presented stories featured by counterfactuality to both English and Chinese speakers and compared their responses to counterfactual questions. The overall result of his experiment was that his American English subjects scored significantly higher than Chinese subjects. Bloom interpreted his findings as evidence for the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: language influences thought and linguistic differences entail corresponding cognitive differences. This dissertation intends to demonstrate, through a survey of literature and interviewing of native Chinese informants, that although Chinese does not have a syntactic means equivalent to the subjunctive in English to mark counterfactuality, it does have lexical devices to express hypothetical and implicational meanings. In addition, there are contextualization cues such as stress, pitch and intonation that make counterfactuality explicit. The fact that some Chinese were reluctant to respond to Bloom's hypothetical questions as he had expected may not be a reflection of differences in cognitive processes, but rather a reflection of differences in cultural values. Data collected for this dissertation also indicate that differences in linguistic categorization are not necessarily paralleled by cognitive differences. The educational implication of this dissertation is: to be a competent speaker in any language it is not sufficient only to learn linguistic forms. It is essential to learn the culture and social norms of a particular society and the use of language in contexts: topic, setting and participants in order to communicate appropriately and effectively.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Cultural anthropology|Linguistics

Recommended Citation

Wu, Zhaoyi, "Exploring counterfactuals in English and Chinese" (1989). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI8917427.