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Object-Fronting in Archaic Chinese  

Victor Junnan Pan and Yihe Jiao

The SOV order is very productive in Archaic Chinese. Most scholars believe that Archaic Chinese has SVO as basic word order and that SOV is derived by fronting the direct object from the postverbal position to a preverbal position. The most frequent cases involving object fronting in Archaic Chinese are those with pronominal objects. For instance, when the direct object is an interrogative pronoun, a demonstrative, or an ordinary personal pronoun appearing in a negative sentence, it is usually fronted to a preverbal position. Historically, object fronting has already been observed in oracle bone script, and gradually disappeared in the Han dynasty (202 bce–220 ce). After the Wei and Jin dynasties (220–420 ce), object fronting was extremely rare, and it only occurred in fixed expressions, which even stay in Modern Chinese in the early 21st century. Object fronting in Archaic Chinese can be roughly classified into two categories: unmarked object fronting and marked object fronting. The former category includes cases in which the object is positioned in a preverbal position or a pre-prepositional position without any morphosyntactic marking devices, while the latter category includes cases in which the fronted object can be either preceded or followed by some morphosyntactic markers. For instance, a fronted object can be followed by shì (是) or zhī (之), both of which are the most frequent markers co-occurring with a fronted object in Archaic Chinese. Given that both zhī (之) and shì (是) were used as pronouns and demonstratives in Archaic Chinese, when they appear in sentences involving object fronting, some scholars treat them as resumptive pronouns referring to the object NP. Due to the presence of the resumptive pronoun, object NP is allowed to be fronted in a preverbal position. In fact, there is no fixed position as a landing site for fronted objects in Archaic Chinese; instead, different preverbal positions exist. Fronted objects can be followed by functional elements of different categories: negative elements such as bù (不), wèi (未), mò (莫), and wú (无); ordinary adverbs such as qián (前) ‘before’ and jūn (均) ‘all’; modal verbs such as néng (能) ‘be able to’, dé (得) ‘be able to’, gǎn (敢) ‘dare’, and kěn (肯) ‘be willing to’; control verbs such as rěn (忍) ‘bear’ and zhī (知) ‘know’; conjunctions such as yì (亦) ‘and’, yòu (又) ‘and, as well as’, and shàng (尚) ‘yet’; and modal adverbs such as qí (其) indicating a rhetorical meaning, jiāng (将) ‘will, would’ and qiě (且) ‘will, would’. Object fronting in Archaic Chinese is closely linked to information structure. For instance, when the focalized element in a negative sentence is the direct object, then such an object will be fronted.