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Liheci ‘Separable Words’ in Mandarin Chinese  

Kuang Ye and Haihua Pan

Liheci ‘separable words’ is a special phenomenon in Mandarin Chinese, and it refers to an intransitive verb with two or more syllables that allows the insertion of syntactic modifiers or an argument in between the first syllable and the second or the rest of syllables with the help of the nominal modifier marker de. There are two major groups of Liheci: those stored in the lexicon, such as bangmang ‘help’, lifa ‘haircut’, and shenqi ‘anger’, and those derived in syntax through noun-to-verb incorporation, such as chifan ‘eat meal’, leiqiang ‘build wall’, in which fan ‘meal’ and qiang ‘wall’ are incorporated into chi ‘eat’ and lei ‘build’, respectively, to function as temporary verbal compounds. The well-known behavior of Liheci is that it can be separated by nominal modifiers or a syntactic argument. For example, bangmang ‘help’ can be used to form a verb phrase bang Lisi-de mang ‘give Lisi a help’ by inserting Lisi and a nominal modifier marker, de, between bang and mang, with bang being understood as the predicate and Lisi-de mang as the object. Although Lisi appears as a possessor marked by de, it should be understood as the theme object of the compound verb. In similar ways, the syntactic–semantic elements such as agent, theme, adjectives, measure phrases, relative clauses, and the like can all be inserted between the two components of bangmang, deriving verb phrases like (Zhangsan) bang Zhangsan-de mang ‘(Zhangsan) do Zhangsan’s help’, where Zhangsan is the agent; bang-le yi-ci mang ‘help once’, where yi-ci is a measure phrase; and bang bieren bu xiang bang de mang ‘give a help that others don’t want to give’, where bieren bu xiang bang is a relative clause. The same insertions can be found in Liheci formed in syntax. For example, chi liang-ci fan ‘eat two time’s meal’ (eat meals twice), lei san-tian qiang ‘build three day’s wall’ (build walls for three days). There are three syntactic-semantic properties exhibited in verb phrases formed with Liheci: first, possessors being understood as Liheci’s logical argument; second, interdependent relation between the predicate and the complement; and, third, obligatory use of verbal classifiers instead of nominal classifiers. In this article, first, five influential analyses in the literature are reviewed, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses. Then, the cognate object approach is discussed. Under this approach, Lihecis are found to be intransitive verbs that are capable of taking nominalized reduplicates of themselves as their cognate objects. After a complementary deletion on the verb and its reduplicate object in the Phonetic Form (PF), all the relevant verb phrases can be well derived, with no true separation involved in the derivation, as all the copies of Liheci in question remain intact all along. After a discussion of the relevant syntactic structures, it is shown that with this syntactic capacity, all participants involved in the events can be successfully accommodated and correctly interpreted. The advantage can be manifested in six aspects, demonstrating that this proposal fares much better than other approaches.