Syntactic Typology: Studies in the Phenomenology of Language

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Winfred P. Lehmann

5. An Exploration
of Mandarin Chinese

Charles N. Li & Sandra A. Thompson

5.1. Introduction

The language whose typology we are going to describe is Mandarin Chinese; genetically, Mandarin is a member of the Chinese branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. It is the major Chinese language in that (1) it is the native language of more than half of the people of China, (2) these native speakers inhabit about 75 percent of the land area of China, (3) it is the official language of both mainland China and Taiwan, and (4) the written language is structurally and lexically closer to Mandarin than to any of the other Chinese languages.

A number of Chinese languages are mutually unintelligible. This mutual intelligibility is largely due to phonological and lexical factors; from the grammatical point of view, these languages are rather similar. Thus, most of the typological features of Mandarin discussed in this paper are shared by the other Chinese languages with some differences of detail. However, from here on, we will speak of Mandarin without the qualifying phrase "and in the Chinese languages in general." We will point out those few characteristics which distinguish Mandarin from its sister languages.

When Mandarin is compared to other languages of the world, it displays a number of typologically salient features. On the phonological level, Mandarin is a tone language, and its syllable structure is relatively highly constrained. On the grammatical side, we will try to show that the most noteworthy feature is the fact that Mandarin is an isolating language with practically no grammatical morphology. From this fact follow the other typological features that we will be discussing: its word order characteristics, the prominence assigned to the notion of "topic," the lack of a case system, the system of "serial verb constructions," and the fact that there is very little evidence for claiming syntactic (as opposed to semantic) knowledge on the part of its speakers.

5.2. Tone and Syllable Structure

All the Chinese languages are lexical tone languages: part of the lexical representation of each syllable in every word includes the information as to what tone it carries. However, of all the Chinese languages, Mandarin's tone system is the simplest: first, it has only four lexical tones, the smallest number of tones of any Chinese language (e.g., Standard Cantonese has nine tones). Second, Mandarin has relatively few tone sandhi rules, as compared with most of the dialects of the Amoy language, such as Taiwanese and Fukienese. Since excellent descriptions of the tone system of Mandarin are readily available in the literature, we will be very brief here (see, for example, Chao 1961; 1968; Cheng 1971; Kratochvil 1968).

For stressed syllables, there are four possible tones:


Pinyin, the official spelling system for Mandarin proposed by the People's Republic of China, which we will be using throughout, represents these tones by four iconic diacritic tone marks, as illustrated above for the ba syllable.

Unstressed syllables have what is known as the "neutral tone": its pitch is determined entirely by the tone of the preceding syllable. Unstressed syllables have no tone diacritic in the Pinyin spelling system.

The syllable structure of all the Chinese languages is relatively simple compared with that of, say, English: for example, all of the languages forbid consonant clusters and allow only a restricted number of consonants in a syllable-final position. But, as with tone, Mandarin is the simplest in syllable structure:

(O (V) V ( {V N} )

Every syllable has a nuclear vowel; diphthongs and triphthongs may occur; an initial consonant is optional, and the only final consonants which are permitted are the nasal segments n and ŋ.

The essential lack of morphology, which we will show to have significant ramifications throughout the grammar of Mandarin, can easily be seen to affect the phonology of Mandarin as well: there are few morphophonological processes. The phonologically interesting phenomena all center around the effects of rate of speech on tones and segments, and the vowel height constraints on diphthongs and triphthongs (see Cheng 1971 for details).

5.3. Word Order

Since the appearance of Greenberg's milestone paper on word order typologies (1963), linguists have been attempting to characterize languages in terms of his basic three-way distinction according to the position of the verb: VSO, SVO, or SOV. Mandarin is not at all a straightforward example of distinctions of this type, for three reasons.

First, the notion of "subject" is not a well-defined one in the grammar of Mandarin.

A second and closely related fact is that the order in which basic constituents occur is governed to a large extent by pragmatic and semantic considerations rather than grammatical ones. What this means is that both verb-medial and verb-final sentence types exist, neither being clearly more "basic" or "neutral" than the other. Languages which are relatively easy to characterize in Greenberg's terms are always those in which the word order is principally determined on strictly grammatical grounds (i.e., independent of pragmatic or semantic principles), such as French and Turkish.

Third, whether Mandarin is taken to be verb-medial or verb-final, it is inconsistent with respect to the features that correlate with VO or OV order according to Greenberg's typological scheme. For example, sample texts reveal a greater number of VO than OV sentences, yet modifiers must precede their heads, which is an OV concomitant.

Let us examine in more detail each of these three problems in determining word order for Mandarin.

The first problem has to do with the fact that Mandarin is a language in which "subject" is not a clearly definable notion. In Li and Thompson 1976b we suggested that Mandarin is in fact a topic-prominent rather than a subject-prominent language. That is, in Mandarin, the basic structure of sentences can be more insightfully treated in a description in which the topic-comment relation rather than the subject-predicate relation plays a major role, although many sentences, of course, do have identifiable subjects. An example of a topic-comment sentence is:

(1) Nèikuài tián wǒmen zhòng daòzi.
  that field we grow rice
  'That field (Topic), we grow rice (on it).'

In such a sentence, the initial noun phrase nèikuài tián 'that field' is playing the role of the topic with respect to the comment wǒmen zhòng daòzi 'we grow rice.' Evidence that it does not bear the grammatical relation subject to the rest of the sentence includes the fact that there is no selectional relationship between this topic and the comment. Now, in a language in which such sentences are part of the repertory of basic sentence types, it is clearly no simple matter to determine what the basic word order is according to Greenberg's criteria: the verb is preceded by two nouns, but neither the SOV nor the OSV label characterizes sentences like (1).

A second problem in determining the basic word order for Mandarin is the related fact that it is primarily pragmatic and semantic factors rather than grammatical ones which determine the order of major constituents with respect to the verb. Thus, on the pragmatic side, preverbal position is a signal for definiteness for topics, subjects, and objects (see Li and Thompson 1975; 1976a; 1976b). On the semantic side, pre- or postverbal position signals a meaning difference for adverbial expressions (see Tai 1973a and Light 1976).

Let us briefly illustrate these two points. First, we have said that definiteness is signaled by preverbal position for topics, subjects, and objects. Since topics, as in (1), are definite by definition, they are always preverbal, but subjects and objects may appear on either side of the verb:

(2) a.
Zéi pǎo le.
thief run Asp.
'The thief has run away.'
Pǎo le zéi.
run Asp. thief
'A thief has run away.'

(2a) shows that the preverbal subject is interpreted as definite, while the postverbal subject of (2b) is interpreted as indefinite. In (3a) it can be seen that the unmarked post-verbal object is taken as indefinite, while any of the three possible preverbal positions render it definite (3b-d):

(3) a.
mǎi shū le.
I buy book Asp.
'I bought a book.'
shū mǎi le.
I def. obj. book buy Asp.
'I bought the book.'
Shū mǎi le.
book I buy Asp.
'The book, I bought it.' (Topic/Contrastive)
shū mǎi le.
I book buy Asp.
'I bought the book.' (Contrastive)

(The pragmatic difference signaled by pre- versus postverbal position holds for nouns which are not morphologically marked for definiteness with a demonstrative; under certain conditions it is possible for a noun marked for definiteness to appear postverbally, particularly when contrastively stressed:

(i) mǎi le nèiben shu.
  I buy Asp. that book
  'I bought that book.')

Second, to illustrate the semantic difference between pre- and postverbal position for adverbial expressions, we can examine time phrases and place phrases.

Time phrases. Preverbal time phrases tend to signal punctual time, while postverbal time phrases tend to signal durative time:

(4) a.
sān-diǎn-zhōng kāi-huì.
I 3:00 hold-meeting
'I have a meeting at 3:00.'
*Wǒ kāi-huì sān-diǎn-zhōng.
I hold-meeting 3:00
(5) a.
shuì le sānge zhōngtou.
I sleep Asp. 3 hours
'I slept for three hours.'
*Wǒ sānge zhōngtou shuì le.
I 3 hours sleep Asp.

Place phrases. Preverbal position signals location of actions, while postverbal position signals location of participants or object:

(6) a.
zài zhuōzi-shang tiào.
he at table-on jump
'He jumped (up and down) on the table.'
tiào zài zhuōzi-shang.
he jump at table-on
'He jumped onto the table.'
zài zhuōzi-shang huà.
he at table-on draw
'He is drawing at the table.'
huà zài zhuōzi-shang.
he draw at table-on
'He is drawing (something) on the table.'

With both pragmatic and semantic factors influencing the order of noun phrases with respect to the verb, then, it is eminently clear that "basic word order" will be difficult to establish.

Before leaving this point, however, let us see what happens if we select some criterion according to which we might try to pick either VO or OV order as "basic" for Mandarin. One such criterion, which most linguists would consider reasonable, might be the unmarked pragmatic value for subjects and objects, the unmarked value for subjects being definite, for objects, indefinite. According to this criterion, the least marked word order for Mandarin will be SVO for sentences which have subjects and objects. Corroborating this observation is the fact that a sample text count yields more SVO than SOV sentences.

Unfortunately, we cannot be entirely happy with the results of applying this criterion, because we must still face the third problem in determining a word order for Mandarin: according to Greenberg's discussion, certain features should correlate with the order in which the object and verb occur. Mandarin can be seen to have some of the features of an OV language and some of those of a VO language, with more of the former than of the latter (see Li and Thompson 1974a and 1974b for more discussion). The presence of both OV and VO features has been observed by other linguists, e.g., Tai (1973b), Light (1976), and Teng (1975):

OV Language Features VO Language Features
1. OV sentences occur. 1. VO sentences occur.
2. Prepositional phrases precede the V (except for time and place phrases) (see above). 2. Prepositions exist.
3. Postpositions exist. 3. Auxiliaries precede the V.
4. Relative clauses precede the N. 4. Complex sentences are almost always VO.
5. Genitive phrases precede the N.  
6. Aspect markers follow the V.  
7. Certain adverbials precede the V.  

Example sentences illustrating each of the OV features are:

1. OV sentences occur.
(7) Zháng-sān le.
  Zhang-san Obj. Marker (OM) he scold Asp.
  'Zhang-san scolded him.'

The ba-construction is one of the most-discussed and least-understood constructions in Mandarin grammar. It is a feature not found in most of the other Chinese languages. In essence, ba functions to mark a definite direct object:

(7) b.
mǎi le shū le.
he buy Asp. book Asp.
'He has bought a book.'
shū mǎi le.
he OM book buy Asp.
'He bought the book.'

For further discussion, see Thompson 1973a; Li 1971; and Cheung 1973 and references cited there.

2. Prepositional phrases precede the V, and
3. Postpositions exist.
(8) zài chūfáng-lǐ chǎo-fàn.
  he at kitchen-in cook-rice
  'He's cooking in the kitchen.'
4. Relative clauses precede the N, and
5. Genitive phrases precede the N.
(9) Huì jiǎng guóyǔ de nèige xiǎohái shì wǒ-de érzi.
  know speak Chinese Rel. that child be I-gen. son
  'The child who knows how to speak Chinese is my son.'
6. Aspect markers follow the V.
(10) qù-guo Táiběi.
  I go-experienced Taipei
  'I have been to Taipei.'
7. Certain adverbials precede the V:
(11) mǎn zàihu.
  he completely not care
  'He is completely indifferent.'
(12) kuài yidiǎn chī.
  you fast a-little eat
  'Eat a little faster.'

Here are examples illustrating the VO features:

1. VO sentences occur.
(13) xǐhuān tā.
  I like he
  'I like him.'
2. Prepositions exist.
(14) cóng Zhōngguo lái le.
  he from China come Asp.
  'He has come from China.'
3. Auxiliaries precede the V.
(15) néng shuō zhōngguo-huà.
  he can speak Chinese
  'He can speak Chinese.'
4. Complex sentences are almost always VO.
(16) tīnshuō mǎi le tāde shū-diàn.
  I hear you buy Asp. he-Gen. bookstore
  'I heard that you bought his bookstore.'

Until more is understood about the basis for these word order correlates, it is difficult to see any clear pattern in this distribution of OV and VO features.

To summarize this section, then: discussions in the literature on word order do not enable us to decide what the basic word order of Mandarin is; the notion of "subject" is not a prominent one in Mandarin; pragmatic and semantic factors influence word order more than grammatical factors do; and Mandarin has properties which have been suggested as concomitants of both OV and VO languages.

5.4. Morphology

5.4.1. Compounding Mechanisms

As we suggested above, Mandarin has very little grammatical morphology relative to other languages. The language, however, is rich in compounds, both nominal and verbal. The most common type of verbal compound is the "resultative" compound, composed of an action verb followed by a stative verb, e.g., dǎsǎo 'dust and sweep' + gānjing 'clean' = 'tidy up'. It is also known as the causative compound since the first verb specifies the cause and the second verb denotes the result. An example of a sentence with such a compound would be:

(17) Wǒmen fángjian dǎsǎo-gānjing.
  we OM room sweep-clean
  'We swept the room clean.'

(For further discussion, see Thompson 1973b.) In the formation of nominal compounds, Mandarin is essentially like English: nominal compounds can be created at will, and the language is also full of lexicalized compounds. For example,

Newly Created Compounds
English: ketchup blot
Mandarin: jiàng-yóu wū-diǎn
  soy stain
Lexicalized Compounds
English: pocket book
Mandarin: xiào-yǒu

(For more discussion, see Zimmer 1971; 1972; Li 1971.)

Mandarin has two other interesting compounding devices, which are somewhat less commonly found in languages of the world. One is exemplified by the so-called verb-object compound. This term is used to refer to compounds consisting of two morphemes which could function in a verb-object relationship syntactically but which are frozen lexical items functioning as nouns or verbs in the language. Examples include:

'be ashamed'

(This type of compound is discussed at some length in Chi 1974.)

The other compounding device, which is more productive than the verb-object type, involves the shortening of a multi-morphemic phrase into a bimorphemic lexical item called a "stump compound." For example, the official name of the Soviet Union is:

sūwéiāi shèhui-zhǔyì lián-bāng gòng-hé-kuó
soviet socialism union republic
"Union of Soviet Socialist Republics"

which is typically shortened to sū lián 'Soviet Union' where is the first syllable of the first morpheme sūwéiāi 'soviet' and liān is the first morpheme of the third word liān-bāng 'union'. Another example is:

xiē-nán lián-hé dà-xué
west-south united university
"South-Western United University"

which is shortened to xiē-nán lián dà. Such "stump compounds" are commonly used in naming agencies and branches of the military or government. (Excellent discussion of the various types of compounds in Mandarin can be found in Chao 1968 and Kratochvil 1968.)

5.4.2. Lack of Grammatical Morphology

We have suggested that the fact that the language has essentially no grammatical morphology may be a significant typological feature. Here we will discuss the implications of this typological fact for Mandarin grammar.

First, there is no case morphology signaling "primary" case relations, that is, the grammatical relations of subject, direct object, and indirect object.1 While in certain sentence types, the word order SVO indicates that the preverbal noun is the subject and the postverbal noun is the object, we have shown that word order is semantically and pragmatically conditioned in Mandarin, and that there are simple, basic sentence types whose word order does not signal grammatical relations (although in complex sentence constructions, such as serial verb construction to be discussed later in this section, the word order SVO is fairly rigid). Needless to say, Chinese also does not have agreement to signal the notion of subject. Hence, one may conclude that grammatical relations are not systematically manifested in surface coding. In Li and Thompson 1976b, we also argued that there are relatively few grammatical processes that refer to grammatical relations. (There do, however, appear to be certain processes, such as Equi and reflexive, which are sensitive to "subject"; see Li and Thompson 1976b for discussion.) A corollary to this de-emphasis of grammatical relations is the fact that the "topic" notion, as we suggested above, plays a much more prominent role in Mandarin than in languages which predominently code grammatical relations. That is, topic-comment sentences such as the following are basic sentences in Mandarin:

(18) Nèi-zuo fángzi xìngkui qù-nián méi xià-yǔ.
  that-Classif. house fortunate last-year not rain
  'That house (Topic), fortunately it didn't rain last year.'

(19) zuì xǐhuān chī xīnxian-de.
  fish I most like eat fresh-Nominalizer
  'Fish (Topic), I like fresh ones best.'
(20) Tāmen shéi zhīdào?
  they who know
  'As far as they are concerned, who knows?'
(21) Zhè-men wǒmen děi dāngxīn.
  this-Classif. course we must careful
  'This course (Topic), we must be careful.'
(22) Dà-xúexiào zhè-jian zuì hǎo.
  university this-Classif. most good
  'Universities (Topic), this one is the best.'

A second implication of the lack of grammatical morphology is that Mandarin is missing a morphological system for signaling the definiteness of a noun phrase; correlated with this is the fact that word order is used for that function, as discussed in section 5.3.

The third implication of the dearth of grammatical morphology which we would like to discuss is the serial verb construction. A serial verb construction contains two or more predicates juxtaposed without any morphological marker indicating either (1) the relationship between the nouns and the predicates or (2) the relationship between the predicates. Thus, it takes the form

NP V (NP) V (NP)

Sentences of this form in Mandarin are understood in radically different ways. For ease of presentation, we group the interpretations into the following types and give examples of each: A. "Canonical" Serial Verbs
(23) a.
mǎi piào jìnqu.
he buy ticket go-in
'He bought a ticket to go in/and went in.'
tiāntian huì xiě xìn.
he every-day receive guest write letter
'Every day he receives guests and writes letters.'
Wǒmen kāi huì tǎolùn nèige wènti.
we hold meeting discuss that problem
'We're holding a meeting to discuss that problem/and discussing that problem.'
shàng lóu shuìjiào.
he go-up stairs sleep
'He's going upstairs to sleep.' B. Complementation
1. Object Complementation
(24) a.
yào qù.
I want he go
'I want him to go.'
zhīdao Z. S. lái le.
I know Z. S. come Asp.
'I know Z. S. has come.'
kànjian xiě xìn.
he see I write letter
'He saw me writing a letter.'
2. Subject Complementation
(25) a.
shàng dàxué shì shì.
he go-to university be big matter
'His going to the university is a big deal.'
shēng-bìng hěn kěxí.
he get-sick very sad
'It's very sad that he has gotten sick.'
Xiě Yīngwen hěn nán.
write English very hard
'It's very hard to write English.'
3. "Pivot" Sentences (i.e., NP2 = Subj. of V2 and Obj. of V1)
(26) a.
jiào qù.
I tell he go
'I told him to go.'
pīping yònggōng.
I criticize he not diligent
'I criticized him for not being hardworking.'
pài mǎi jiǔ.
I send he go buy wine
'I sent him to go buy wine.'
Háizi dōu xiào shì yíge pàngzi.
child all laugh-at he be a fatso
'The children all laughed at him for being a fatso.' C. "Intention" Clauses
(27) a.
Wǒmen zhòng cài chī.
we raise vegetable eat
'We raise vegetables to eat.'
yǎng zhū mài.
I raise pig sell
'I raise pigs to sell.'
zhǎo xuésheng jiāo.
I seek student teach
'I'm looking for students to teach.' (Ambiguous as in English) D. "Descriptive" Clauses
(28) a.
yǒu yíge mèimei hěn piàoling.
I have a sister very pretty
'I have a sister who is very pretty.'
mǎi le yíjiàn yīfu tài dà.
I buy Asp. a outfit too big
'I bought an outfit that was too big.'
chǎo le yíge cài hěn xiāng.
he cook Asp. a dish very delicious
'He cooked a dish that was very delicious.' E. Circumstantial Adjuncts
(29) a.
zài chúfang-li shāo-fàn.
I at kitchen-in cook-rice
'I'm cooking in the kitchen.'
zuò zài yǐzi-shang kàn bào.
he sit at chair-on read paper
'He sat in the chair reading a newspaper.'
yòng kuàizi chī-fàn.
I use chopsticks eat-rice
'I eat with chopsticks.'
I compare he tall
'I'm taller than he is.' F. Ambiguities
(30) a.
tiāntiān kàn diànying chī píngguo.
he every-day see movie eat apple
'Everyday he sees movies and eats apples/to eat apples.'
tiāntiān kàn péngyou chī píngguo.
he every-day see friend eat apple
'Everyday he sees a friend and eats apples/eat an apple/to eat apples.'
Wǒmen yǒu yíge wènti hěn máfan.
we have a problem very troublesome
'We have a problem that's very troublesome/That we have a problem is very troublesome.'
yǒu yíge jiějie yǒu yíge háizi.
I have a sister have a child
'I have a sister who has a child/I have a sister and a child.'

What is evident from the above examples is that the serial verb construction is used to encode a number of different relationships between predicates in Mandarin. These predicate relationships are structurally distinct in most other languages because of the presence of grammatical markers. The interesting question that such constructions pose is: given such a minimally specified string, how do speakers assign appropriate interpretations to it?

Our answer to this question is that speakers infer the appropriate interpretations for such strings on the basis of four types of knowledge: language-dependent knowledge, pragmatic factors, certain language-independent principles, and universal linguistic principles. Let us elaborate on each of these. A. Language-Dependent Knowledge

Speakers of a language know the meanings of predicates in their language and the nature of the arguments each predicate takes. It is easy to see that this knowledge accounts for a fair amount of a speaker's ability to interpret serial verb sentences. For example, in a sentence such as the object complement type (31),

(31) xǐhuan chī bīng-ji-líng.
  I like eat ice-cream
  'I like to eat ice-cream.'

the interpretation follows directly from the fact that xǐhuan 'like' is a two-argument verb requiring an animate subject; since 'I' is an animate noun and is in a preverbal position, the sequence chī bīng-ji-líng 'eat ice cream' can only be interpreted as its object. (That such knowledge is, in fact, language-dependent rather than universal semantic knowledge, is evident from the fact that, although verbs such as Mandarin xǐhuan and its English counterpart like are both two-argument verbs, the Mandarin xiào 'laugh' can be either a one-argument or a two-argument verb, corresponding to the English laugh as well as laugh at. These properties of verbs, then, must be viewed as facts which speakers know about their own language.)

Another significant kind of language-dependent knowledge is the knowledge of the range of grammatical devices available in the language. Thus, given a serial verb sentence like:

(32) kàn diànying chī píngguo.
  he see movie eat apple
  'He saw a movie and ate an apple.'

an interpretation in which the two events are understood to have occurred simultaneously is ruled out because there is an explicit construction in Mandarin for signaling simultaneity of two events, the -zhe-construction (see section 5.5).

(33) kàn-zhe diànying chī píngguo.
  he see movie eat apple
  'He ate an apple while watching a movie.'

Similarly, unlike the serial verb construction in Thai which may take on a causative reading, a serial verb construction in Chinese will not be given a causative interpretation. The reason is that there is another grammatical device, namely the resultative verb compound mentioned earlier, available to the speaker of Chinese who wishes to signal a causative relationship between two verbs.

The basic principle suggested here regarding the native speaker's knowledge of the range of grammatical devices available in the language is that a language tends not to employ several distinct multipredicate structures to signal one specific semantic relationship between two predicates. This principle may be viewed as a tendency toward economy in linguistic codification. It does not call for an isomorphism between multipredicate structures on the one hand and semantic relationships between predicates on the other. In fact, a language may employ two distinct structures to signal a specific semantic relationship between two predicates. Such a situation frequently occurs when the language is undergoing syntactic changes involving the structure in question. For instance, the resultative compound historically displaced the causative serial verb construction in Chinese (see Li and Thompson 1976c). But the process of actualization concerning the displacement took several centuries, during which both serial verb construction and resultative compounds were used to signal the causative relation between predicates.

A third type of language-dependent knowledge which must be attributed to speakers is an understanding of certain basic syntactic principles of their language, such as word order in certain constructions. For Mandarin, the fact that in complex sentences word order is consistently SVO plays a role in determining the interpretation of serial verb sentences. Because of this relatively rigid word order in complex sentences, the native speaker is able to identify the first NP in a serial verb sentence as the subject of the first verb and also the potential subject of the second verb. Consider for example:

(34) tiāntiān kàn diànying chī píngguo
  he every-day see movie eat apple

By the word order principle, we understand that the subject of see is the first NP of the sentence, 'he'. Now the second NP of the sentence, diànying 'movie', which should be the subject of the second verb by virtue of its position immediately preceding the second verb, is an inanimate noun; but the second verb, chī 'eat', requires an animate subject. Hence, the second NP cannot serve as the subject of the second verb, and we are forced to take the first NP as the subject of both the first and second verb. Thus the SVO word order for complex sentences and the meaning of 'the verbs (i.e., their selectional and categorial co-occurrence restrictions) are sufficient for us to determine the grammatical relationships between the NP's and the predicates in sentence (34). B. Pragmatic Factors

Situation-dependent, or pragmatic, factors are responsible for narrowing down interpretations in cases such as the following:

(35) yǒu yíge wènti hěn máfan.
  he have a problem very troublesome
  a. 'That he has a problem is very troublesome.'
  b. 'He has a problem that is very troublesome.'

The difference between interpretations (a) and (b) is whether the clause tā yǒu yíge wènti 'he has a problem' is understood as being presupposed, as in (a), or asserted, as in (b). The pragmatic fact of whether this proposition is known to both speaker and hearer clearly determines whether interpretation (a) or (b) is appropriate in a given situation. C. Language-Independent Principles

A good part of the knowledge of possible relationships between clauses in a sentence is acquired by normal people as a result of their experiences in the world. This knowledge is language-independent and results from our perception of and experience with the world. Given any two events, there can be only a small, finite number of relationships between them. Language merely reflects and codifies these relationships in various multipredicate constructions, although different languages employ different strategies in their codification.

This language-independent knowledge of various relationships between clauses plays a significant role in the interpretation of serial verb sentences in Mandarin. Before discussing how this works, however, let us describe the central relationship between events and/or states commonly occurring in the world. Below we list the relationships together with a description of the construction used in Mandarin for signaling each relationship:

1. Parallel Events

Most languages employ a coordinate structure with a coordinate marker linking the clauses to codify parallel events. In Mandarin, however, they are signaled by the serial verb construction, e.g.,

(36) xiě xiǎoshuo mài gǔdong.
  he write novel sell antique
  'He writes novels and sells antiques.'
2. Consecutive Events

When two events occur sequentially, languages may either use a temporal adverbial clause such as an after-clause, a before-clause, or a coordinate structure with or without a consecutive marker such as the English then. Temporal adverbial clauses with after or before seem to be nearly universal. However, in Mandarin, consecutive events may also be codified by the serial verb construction.

(37) tuō-le yīfu shàng chuáng.
  he take-off-Asp. clothes get-into bed
  'He took off his clothes and then got into bed.'
3. Simultaneous Events

Two events may occur simultaneously. Mandarin signals the simultaneous relationship between two clauses with the -zhe-construction, e.g.,

(38) chī-zhe fàn kàn bào.
  he eat food read newspaper
  'He reads newspapers while eating food.'
4. Result

One event may be the result of another. The construction used in Mandarin to signal this relationship takes on the particle de, marking the predicate denoting the event which leads to the result, e.g.,

(39) pǎo-de hěn lèi.
  He run very tired
  'He is very tired from running.'
5. Purpose

An action may be carried out for a specific purpose. When both the action and the purpose are expressed by clauses, the relationship between the two clauses may be described as "purposive." In Mandarin, the serial verb construction signals this relationship:

(40) huí jiā kàn qīnqi.
  he return home see relative
  'He went back home to see his relatives.'
6. Cause

One event may be the cause of another. The causative relationship in Mandarin, as mentioned above, is signaled by the "resultative compound," e.g., dǎsǎo-gānjing 'sweep-clean'. The causative relationship between these two verbs is inferred from the juxtaposition of the two verbs just as the meaning 'is made of' is inferred from an English compound such as steel blade.

7. Conditional, Concessive

A conditional or concessive relationship between two events is typically expressed by explicit morphology. All languages appear to have some morphological marker signaling conditional or concessive relationships between two clauses. In Mandarin, a marker such as rúguo 'if on the clause indicating condition is optional, but the marker jiù 'then' on the consequent clause is obligatory. (See section 5.6 for more discussion of conditional clauses.)

(41) (Rúguo) lái jiù qù.
  if he come I then go
  'If he comes, I will go.'

Concessional clauses are marked with such pairs as sūirán 'although' ... kěshi 'but'.

Sūirán lái-le, kěshi hái juéde
although he come-Asp. but I still feel not
'Although he has arrived, I still don't feel good.'

It is clear that the knowledge of such relationships between events and/or states in the world plays a role in the interpretation of serial verb sentences by the speaker of Mandarin. For example, given a sentence such as (40), which juxtaposes two verbs semantically requiring agents acting willfully, the Mandarin speaker knows that given the small set of relationships described above a most likely inference is that the first action was undertaken in order to accomplish the second. D. Universal Linguistic Principles

As we have seen in the preceding discussion, a small set of language-independent principles representing our perception and knowledge of the world accounts for most of the relationships between clauses in multipredicate constructions. However, the relationships between clauses in certain multi-predicate constructions which appear in all languages cannot be understood as manifestations of the language-independent relationships between events in the world, but seem to be purely linguistic. Two of the most important and fundamental of these relations are predication and description.

1. Predication

A proposition may be predicated on another proposition. In other words, a proposition may serve as an argument of a predicate. Multipredicate constructions of this type are currently referred to by the term "complementation." Let us examine two examples given earlier:

(24) b. zhīdào Z. S. lái le.
I know Z. S. come Asp.
'I know Z. S. has come.'
(25) b. shēng-bìng hěn kěxí.
he get-sick very sad
'It's very sad that he has gotten sick.'

In these examples, the underlined propositions are serving as arguments in the propositions whose predicates are respectively zhīdao 'know' and kěxí 'sad'; these predicates can be said to be making a predication, then, on the underlined propositions. The relationship between the two propositions does not reflect the relationship between events/states in the world. It is a purely linguistic relationship.

2. Description

The most commonly found type of sentence in which one proposition serves a descriptive function with respect to a noun phrase is, of course, a relative clause construction. Mandarin has a relative clause construction (see below), but there is also a serial verb construction in which the second proposition (or verb phrase) is understood as a description of the last noun phrase in the first proposition. Consider again an earlier example:

(28) a. yǒu yíge mèimei hěn piàoling.
I have a sister very pretty
'I have a sister who is very pretty.'

The descriptive clause in Mandarin must be in sentence-final position as shown by the underlined clause in (28a), and the noun phrase it describes must be specific and indefinite. What is being coded in (28a), we are suggesting, is not a relationship between two events or states in the world, but a linguistic relationship between two propositions. The particular construction, which we have labeled "descriptive clause" is language-specific, but the knowledge of the descriptive function of propositions, like the knowledge of complementation, is surely universal linguistic knowledge.

The interpretation of serial verb sentences, then, is best viewed as the result of an interplay of universal linguistic principles and language-dependent, language-independent, and pragmatic factors. The interpretive strategy is an inferential process on the part of the speakers of the language. To illustrate the interplay among these factors, let us examine two examples in more detail.

First consider a serial verb sentence such as (43).

(43) tiāntian huì xiě xìn.
  he every-day receive guest write letter
  'Every day he receives guests and writes letters.'

Given the small set of possible relationships between predicates, the Mandarin speaker considers those for which the serial verb construction is a possible codification. These relationships are represented as: parallel events, consecutive events, purpose (intention), complementation, descriptive clause, circumstantial adjunct. Sentence (43) is not a case of complementation because neither of the two predicates takes a proposition as one of its arguments. It does not involve a descriptive clause because it fails to meet a requirement of the descriptive clause; i.e., the last NP of the first clause which the descriptive clause modifies must be specific and indefinite. Thus, the sentence-final clause xiě xìn 'write letter' cannot serve as a descriptive clause because the preceding noun phrase 'guest' is not specific. Finally, (43) does not involve a circumstantial adjunct because circumstantial adjuncts employ specific predicates — the so-called co-verb in Mandarin. We are now left with only three possible interpretations: parallel events, consecutive events, purpose. In fact, in isolation, sentence (43) is indeterminate with respect to these three interpretations; only contextual information could determine which of them would be appropriate in a given setting.

Next, consider a serial verb sentence such as (44),

(44) yǎng zhū mài.
  he raise pig sell
  'He raises pigs to sell.'

The complementation, the descriptive clause, and the circumstantial adjunct interpretations are ruled out in (44) for the same type of reasons that they are ruled out in (43). We will not repeat the discussion here. The question posed by serial verb sentences such as (44) is: why doesn't it convey a reading of parallel or consecutive events in addition to the purposive reading, as sentence (43) does? The answer lies in the structural characteristics of (44). We observe that the second predicate in (44), mài 'sell' requires the presence of at least two arguments: the source of the transaction and the object of the transaction. The goal of the transaction may be absent in both English and Mandarin. However, in (44), the NP, zhū 'pig', immediately preceding the verb, mài 'sell', cannot serve as its subject, which is semantically the source of the transaction on the basis of selectional restrictions. Thus, mài 'sell' in (44) has neither a subject NP preceding it nor an object NP following it. Another structural characteristic of (44) is that the verb mài 'sell' does not and cannot have any aspect marker. A verb lacking the arguments required by its meaning in their normal positions and having no aspect marker is a nonfinite verb, which signals irrealis. An irrealis verb such as mài 'sell' in (44) simply carries the message "unspecified future" with respect to the other verb, which is nonstative and whose arguments are fully specified. Thus sentence (44) conveys two events, one coded in full and one understood to occur in an unspecified future: both require the presence of an agent. The semantics of such a situation naturally results in a purposive reading, just as in English, where the irrealis verb form, the infinitive, is understood in a purposive sense in the translation of (44): 'He raises pigs to sell'. The important point here is that, on the one hand, there is no morphology for signaling irrealis in Mandarin, and, on the other hand, the irrealis interpretation results from the absence of nominal and aspectual concomitants. It is this absence that rules out parallel and consecutive event interpretations for sentences such as (44).

In conclusion, we have seen that the lack of grammatical signals does not impair communication. Furthermore, as the Mandarin serial verb construction shows, the lack of grammatical signals does not necessarily result in other complications. The strategies used by a Mandarin speaker are essentially the same ones available to speakers of any language. One could conclude that many of the familiar grammatical signals for relationships between predicates are not essential for communicative purposes; Mandarin appears to be, however, quite rare among languages of the world in making use of so few of these signals.

5.5. Marked Subordination

In this section, we will discuss those subordinate structures that are characterized by subordination markers.

5.5.1. Simultaneous Action (-zhe-construction)

The -zhe-construction has the following structure:

NP [ [V-zhe (NP)] V (NP) ]VP

where the first NP is always interpreted as the subject of the two following verbs. E.g.,

(45) dī-zhe tóu zǒu-lù.
  he lower head walk
  'He walks with his head bowed.'
(46) kū-zhe pǎo huí jiā qù.
  he cry run back home go
  'He ran home crying.'
(47) kàn-zhe shū shàng kè.
  he read book attend class
  'He goes to class reading.'

The following evidence suggests that the -zhe-clause is subordinate: (a) it is marked with -zhe, which makes the clause nonfinite; its verb may not take any aspect markers. (b) There are a number of semantic constraints on the verb in the -zhe-clause; it must be nonstative and durative. A momentary verb occurs in the -zhe-clause only if the action it denotes can be iterative. Such constraints are typical of subordinate clause verbs, but are not usually found with coordinate clause verbs.

The evidence supporting our claim that the -zhe-clause is part of a VP constituent, shown in the structure

NP [ [ V -zhe (NP) ] V (NP) ]VP

is as follows:

(1) Auxiliaries, negatives, and certain adverbs which normally occur in the second position preceding the VP in Mandarin occur only before the -zhe-clause. (2) The entire -zhe-clause together with the following constituents may be fronted for the purpose of focusing:

(48) Guāng-zhe jiǎo shàng kè, yuànyi.
  bare foot attend class, he willing
  'He is willing to attend classes barefooted.'

Hence, syntactically, the -zhe-construction involves a nonfinite clause embedded in the verb phrase. Semantically, the construction expresses two simultaneous actions with the action denoted by the verb in the -zhe-clause providing the "background" for the main clause predication. The particle -zhe functions as a subordinate marker.

5.5.2. Relative Clause versus Descriptive Clause

The relative clause in Mandarin, like the genitive, the article, and the adjective, precedes the head noun it modifies. E.g.,

(49) xǐhuan de rén
  I like Rel. people
  'The people I like'
(50) Xīhuan de rén
  like I Rel. people
  'The people who like me'

As (49) and (50) show, the relative clause is marked by the particle de, and the NP within the clause that is coreferential with the head noun is deleted. As far as accessibility to relativization is concerned, subject and direct object are most readily accessible in all Chinese languages. In the case of indirect objects, prepositional objects, and genitives, their accessibility to relativization is not as straightforward. For most speakers of Mandarin, indirect object relativization is permissible, but rare:

(51) gěi-le yí-běn shū de nèige rén.
  I give-Asp. he one book Rel. that person
  'The person I gave a book to.'

Notice that in (51) where the head noun is coreferential with the indirect object of the relative clause, the indirect object is replaced with a pronoun (underlined) rather than deleted.

Relativization of prepositional object and genitive noun is unacceptable to most native speakers of Mandarin:

(52) ?? cóng nèr lái de dìfang
  I from there come Rel. place
  'the place I come from'
(53) ?? rènshi mèimei de nèige rén
  I know his sister Rel. that person
  'the person whose sister I know'

The relative clause sentence is similar to another Mandarin construction, the descriptive clause, mentioned above in the discussion of serial verb sentences, in some respect, but the two constructions also differ from each other both semantically and syntactically. Let us consider a pair of examples:

(54) Relative Clause:
mǎi-le yí-tiáo hěn xiōng de gǒu.
I buy-Asp. a very ferocious Rel. dog
'I bought a dog that was very ferocious.'
(55) Descriptive Clause:
mǎi-le yí-tiáo gǒu hěn xiōng.
I buy-Asp. a dog very ferocious
'I bought a dog that was very ferocious.'

(54) and (55) are similar in that both sentences contain a clause which says something about a dog being ferocious. But the similarity stops there. (54) and (55) have different meanings. The meaning of (54) containing the relative clause may best be paraphrased as: "I bought one of those ferocious dogs," whereas the meaning of (55) may be described as: "I bought a dog and it happened to be ferocious." Thus, the relative clause construction assumes the existence of a class of dogs, namely, "ferocious dogs," whereas the descriptive clause construction does not. In other words, the descriptive clause describes an incidental property about the object denoted by the preceding noun, whereas the relative clause provides a property for the establishment of a subclass of objects denoted by the following head noun. There are several other salient characteristics of the descriptive clause construction that set it apart from the relative clause construction. One is that the descriptive clause can occur only in sentence-final position. Another is that the clause does not form a constituent with the preceding NP. The last is that the preceding NP must be indefinite. (For a detailed discussion of the descriptive clause, see Li and Thompson, forthcoming a). One important consequence of the distinctions mentioned above is that whereas the relative clause is a prototype of subordination, it is not at all clear that the descriptive clause involves subordination at all.

5.5.3. Time Adverbial Clause

There are three noteworthy characteristics of time adverbial clauses in Mandarin: (1) they must precede the main clause; (2) they are marked with time adverbial particles; (3) these particles appear at the end of the time clause, unlike the markers for such clause types as conditional and concessive (see section 5.6). For example,

(56) a. When:
lái de shíhou, hěn gāoxing.
he come Rel. time, I very happy
'When he came, I was very happy.'
  b. Before:
rènshi yǐqián, chángchang jiàn tā.
he know you before, I often see him
'Before he knew you, I often saw him.'
  c. After:
zǒu-le yǐhou, wǒmen chīfàn.
he go-Asp. after, we eat
'We'll eat after he goes.'

In the when-clause and the before-clause, the verbs may not take an aspect marker:

(57) a.
* lái-le de shíhou, ...
he come-Asp. Rel. time, ...
*Tā pīping -le yǐqián, ...
he criticize -Asp. you before, ...

In an after-clause, the verb must take the completive aspect marker -le, as in (56c), or a completive expression, as in:

Wǒmen niàn dào - yǐhou, jiù.
we read to Ordinalizer- five lesson after, then
róngyi le.
easy Asp.
'After we've read to the fifth lesson, it will be easy.'

The meaning of the Mandarin subordinator yǐhou 'after' requires that the proposition to which it is suffixed be explicitly marked as completed.

5.5.4 Extent Clause Construction

The extent clause construction signals roughly the same meaning as so ... that in English, as in:

(59) He is so fat that he can't dance.

However, in Mandarin, the clause that indicates the extent appears to be the main clause, while the predicate whose "extent" is being discussed appears to be in the subordinate clause:

(60) pǎo de tóu dōu hūn-le.
  he run   head even dizzy-Asp.
  'He ran to such an extent that he got dizzy.'
(61) pàng de néng tiàowu.
  he fat   not can dance
  'He is so fat that he can't dance.'
(62) xiào de wǒmen dōu bù-hǎoyìsi.
  he laugh   we all embarrassed
  'He laughed to such an extent that we were all embarrassed.'

The first verbs, pǎo 'run', pàng 'fat', xiào 'laugh' in (60) - (62) are marked by the particle de. They cannot be followed by aspect markers or preceded by the negative particle or by auxiliaries such as néng 'can'. However, (60) - (62) show clearly that aspect markers, , and auxiliaries can occur in the extent clause. These facts provide some of the evidence indicating that the first clause in the extent construction is the subordinate clause, whereas the second clause, the extent clause, is the main clause.

It can now be seen that the result clause, exemplified above in (39), repeated here, is simply a special case of the extent construction:

(39) pǎo-de hěn lèi.
  he run very tired
  'He is tired from running.'

The only difference between (60) - (62) and (39) is that in (39) the extent clause consists of simply a stative verb plus a modifier, while the predicates in (60) - (62) are more elaborate. Note that in both (6l) and (39) the nonexpressed subject of the second predicate is understood as coreferential with the subject of the first verb. (For more discussion of these constructions, see Hashimoto 1971.)

The four types of subordination characterized by the presence of subordinate markers which we have discussed in this section are: the -zhe-construction (simultaneous action), the relative clause construction, the time adverbial clause construction, and the extent clause construction. The relative clause obligatorily precedes the head noun. As for the other three constructions, the subordinate clause generally precedes the main clause. If the subordinate-main relationship may be viewed as analogous to the modifier-modified relationship, then the constraint that the modifier must precede the modified is a very strong one in Mandarin. This constraint also extends to simple adverbs such as hěn 'very', tài 'too', 'not', chángchang 'often', tiāntiān 'every day', which must precede the word they modify. For example:

(63) a.
hěn gāo.
he very tall
'He is very tall.'
*Tā gāo hěn.
he tall very
(64) a.
tài lèi.
he too tired
'He is too tired.'
*Tā lèi tài.
he tired too
(65) a.
chángchang shēng-bìng.
he often sick
'He often gets sick.'
*Tā shēng-bìng chángchang.
he sick often
(66) a.
tiāntiān kàn shū.
he every-day read book
'He reads books every day.'
* kàn shū tiāntiān.
he read book every-day

5.6. Paired Correlative Markers

As suggested above, certain relationships between events and states are signaled by structures involving two clauses each of which begins with a marker, although one of the pair may be optionally deleted:


Examples include the following:

5.6.1. A. Reason

(67) Yīnwei wǎn le, (suǒyi) méi qù.
  because late Asp. so I not go
  'I didn't go because it was late.'

(68) Jìrán kěn, (jìu) suàn le.
  since he not willing, then forget Sentence Ptc.
  'Since he is not willing, forget it.'

5.6.2. B. Concessive

Sūirán xǐhuan nèige fángzi, kěshi méi
although I like that house but I not-have
'Although I like that house, I have no money.'
(70) Sūirán néng jiègei qián, háishi gòu.
  although you can lend me money, still not enough
  'Even if you can lend me money, it still won't be enough.'

5.6.3. C. Conditional

1. Future

(71) (Yàoshi) qù, jiù qù.
  if you go, I then go
  'I'll go if you go.'
(72) Chúfei máng, bùran wǒmen yídìng lái kàn nǐ.
  unless you busy,   we certainly come see you
  'We'll come to see you unless you are busy.'
2. Unreal Hypothetical

(73) (Yàoshi) jīntian fàngjià, jiù shuìjiào.
  If today holiday, I then sleep
  'If today were a holiday, I would sleep.'
(74) Jiùshi wǒmen de zǎo, děi zǒu yíge zhōngtou.
  even-if we go   early still must walk one hour
  'Even if we left early, we would still have to walk an hour.'
3. Unreal Counterfactual

(75) Jiǎru shì fùqin, jiù qù.
  If I be you father, I   not let you go
  'If I were your father, I wouldn't let you go.'
(76) (Yàoshi) zǎo yìdian huílai, jiù hǎo le.
  if he early a-little return, then fine Asp.
  'If he had returned a little earlier, it would be fine.'

It is to be noted that the three subcategories of the conditional clause constructions are not determined by the paired markers in each sentence. The markers in (71), which is a future conditional, for instance, are exactly the same as the markers in (76), which is an unreal counterfactual, and in (73) which is an unreal hypothetical. Thus, whether a structure marked with such paired coordinators as yàoshi ... jiù, jiǎru ... jiù, jiùshi ... , or chúfei ... bùran is interpreted as a simple future conditional construction or an unreal hypothetical construction or an unreal counterfactual construction depends entirely on pragmatic factors. For example, (76) would be interpreted as counterfactual in a context in which it is known to all participants that "he" in fact returned too late.

5.6.4. D. Miscellaneous Paired Conjunctions

(77) Búshi lái, jiùshi qù.
  not I come, be he go
  'Either I come or he goes.'
(78) yuè dàshēng shuōhuà, yuè tóu-teng.
  you more loud talk, I more headache
  'The more you talk so loudly, the worse my headache gets.'
(79) búdàn mǎi chēzi, mǎi fángzi.
  he not-only buy car, also buy house
  'He is not only buying a car, but is also buying a house.'

It is clear that in constructions such as these, the relationships between the clauses are made explicit by the correlative markers, which have very specific meanings.

One of the most interesting questions raised by these constructions is whether the clauses are in a coordinate or a subordinate-main relationship. Our position is that these constructions are syntactically parallel to each other, though semantically they may express relationships which other languages express with subordinate clauses, such as conditionality and reason.

Before leaving the correlative clauses, we note that, again, it is quite possible for two clauses to simply be juxtaposed, with no markers, leaving the relationship to the inferential abilities of the participants. For example,

(80) gòu zài jiào.
  not enough again order
  'If it's not enough, we'll order more.'

5.7. Pronominalization

Mandarin has a six-person pronoun system, representing one of the most common pronoun systems in languages of the world.

'I, me' wǒmen 'we, us'
'you' nǐmen 'you' (Pl.)
'he/she, him/her' tāmen 'they, them'
zìji 'self'

As the glosses clearly indicate, pronouns in Mandarin are not distinguished on the basis of gender or case, and their plural suffix is the invariant -men. It should be mentioned that pronouns in Mandarin refer only to humans. In the twentieth century, due to the influence of European languages, the third person pronoun in Mandarin has been extended from human reference to animate reference in the written language. In speech, however, it is still not common to use the third person pronoun to refer to a nonhuman animate being. Pronominalization follows strictly the "precede" constraint, i.e., if NP1 and NP2 are coreferential and NP1 precedes NP2, then only NP2 may be pronominalized. For example,

(81) a.
Zhāngsān zhǐshi xiǎngdao ()-zìji.
Zhangsan only thinks-of (he)-self
'Zhangsan only thinks of himself.'
*()-zìji, Zhāngsān zhǐshi xiǎngdao.
(he)-self, Zhangsan only think-of
(82) a.
Yàoshi Zhāng-sān dào nèr qù, jiù gāoxing.
if Zhang-san to there go, he then not happy
'If Zhang-san goes there, he'll be unhappy.'
*Yàoshi dào nèr qù, Zhāng-sān jiù gāoxing.
if he to there go, Zhang-san then not happy

If (82b) is to be grammatical, and Zhāng-sān cannot be coreferential. The "command" relationship, which may supercede the "precede" constraint in English to allow the first of two coreferential NPs to be pronominalized, is not operable in Mandarin. The typologically distinct characteristic of Mandarin pronominalization is that often an NP preceded by another coreferential NP is simply deleted. This deletion process may occur within a complex sentence or across sentence boundaries in discourse. Languages that allow such a deletion process are called zero-pronominalization languages. Let us consider some examples in Mandarin.

5.7.1. A. Zero-Pronominalization for Subject Obligatory in Adverbial Clause Construction

(83) a.
Zhāng-sān qù-le měiguó yǐhòu, jiù gāoxing.
Zhang-san go-Asp. America after, then not happy
'After Zhang-san went to America, he was unhappy.'
*Zhāng-sān qù-le měigúo yǐhòu, jiù bù.
Zhang-san go-Asp. America after, he then not

5.7.2. B. Zero-Pronominalization for Subject Optional in Correlative Structures

(84) Yīnwei Zhāng-sān xǐhuan nǐ, suǒyi () lái zhèr.
  because Zhang-san like you, therefore (he) come here
  'Because Zhang-san liked you, he came here.'

The pronoun, , in the second clause is optional in (84) as well as in (82a).

5.7.3. C. Zero-Pronominalization in Discourse

The most common type of zero pronominalization in discourse is topic-controlled, i.e., a topic followed by a sequence of comments each of which is an independent clause. For example,

Nèichang huǒ xìngkui xiāofang-dùi lái de kuài.
that fire fortunately fire-brigade come   quick
Zhǐ shāo-le sān-ge fángzi, fàng-le yì-xie yān.
only burn-Asp. three house, release-Asp. some smoke
Wǔ-fēn-zhōng yǐhòu, jiù miè-le.
five-minutes later, then extinguish-Asp.
'That fire (Topic), fortunately the fire-brigade came quickly. It only burned up three houses, and released some smoke. Five minutes later, it was extinguished.'

Zero-pronominalization is a complex and widespread phenomenon in Mandarin, which we have not yet begun to elucidate here (but see Li and Thompson, forthcoming b, for some discussion). We mention it here as an important typological characteristic of Mandarin.

5.8. Conclusion

We have considered here a number of typological parameters and outlined the position of Mandarin with respect to these parameters. We have concluded that the lack of grammatical morphology has a number of far-reaching consequences for the grammar of this language, and that such a language may provide important clues to the understanding of language use which we might miss if we restricted our attention to languages with complex morphological systems.


1. An apparent counterexample to the claim that grammatical relations are unmarked is the indirect object. The indirect object is marked with the preposition gěi 'to' in sentences with certain three-place predicates such as sòng 'present', 'mail', huì 'to send by money order'. For example,

(i) a.
sòng-le yí-ben shū gěi tā.
I give-Asp. a-classifier book to he
'I gave a book to him.'
jì-le yí-feng xìn gěi tā.
I mail-Asp. a-classifier letter to he
'I mailed a letter to him.'

However, with other three-place predicates, the indirect object is indeed unmarked:

(ii) a.
wèn yíge wènti.
I ask he a question
'I'll ask him a question.'
gěi yí-ben shū.
I give he a-classifier book
'I'll give him a book.'

For a typology of indirect object constructions, see Chao 1968: 317-319.

Another putative exception to the claim that Chinese does not have case morphology is the ba-construction described earlier:

(iii) Zhāng-sān pīping le.
  I OM Zhang-san criticize Asp.
  'I criticized Zhang-san.'

In the ba-construction illustrated by (iii), the patient noun is marked with the particle ba. However, as pointed out above, this marker appears only when the patient is in preverbal position.

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