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Chinese Syllable Structure  

Jisheng Zhang

Chinese is generally considered a monosyllabic language in that one Chinese character corresponds to one syllable and vice versa, and most characters can be used as free morphemes, although there is a tendency for words to be disyllabic. On the one hand, the syllable structure of Chinese is simple, as far as permissible sequences of segments are concerned. On the other hand, complexities arise when the status of the prenuclear glide is concerned and with respect to the phonotactic constraints between the segments. The syllabic affiliation of the prenuclear glide in the maximal CGVX Chinese syllable structure has long been a controversial issue. Traditional Chinese phonology divides the syllable into shengmu (C) and yunmu, the latter consisting of medial (G), nucleus (V), and coda (X), which is either a high vowel (i/u) or a nasal (n/ŋ). This is known as the sheng-yun model, which translates to initial-final in English (IF in short). The traditional Chinese IF syllable model differs from the onset-rhyme (OR) syllable structure model in several aspects. In the former, the initial consists only of one consonant, excluding the glide, and the final—that is, everything after the initial consonant—is not the poetic rhyming unit which excludes the prenuclear glide; whereas in the latter, the onset includes a glide and the rhyme–that is, everything after the onset—is the poetic rhyming unit. The Chinese traditional IF syllable model is problematic in itself. First, the final is ternary branching, which is not compatible with the binary principle in contemporary linguistics. Second, the nucleus+coda, as the poetic rhyming unit, is not structured as a constituent. Accordingly, the question arises of whether Chinese syllables can be analyzed in the OR model. Many attempts have been made to analyze the Chinese prenuclear glide in the light of current phonological theories, particularly in the OR model, based on phonetic and phonological data on Chinese. Some such studies have proposed that the prenuclear glide occupies the second position in the onset. Others have proposed that the glide is part of the nucleus. Yet, others regard the glide as a secondary articulation of the onset consonant, while still others think of the glide as an independent branch directly linking to the syllable node. Also, some have proposed an IF model with initial for shengmu and final for yunmu, which binarily branches into G(lide) and R(hyme), consisting of N(ucleus) and C(oda). What is more, some have put forward a universal X-bar model of the syllable to replace the OR model, based on a syntactic X-bar structure. So far, there has been no authoritative finding that has conclusively decided the Chinese syllable structure. Moreover, the syllable is the cross-linguistic domain for phonotactics . The number of syllables in Chinese is very much smaller than that in many other languages mainly because of the complicated phonotactics of the language, which strictly govern the segmental relations within CGVX. In the X-bar syllable structure, the Chinese phonotactic constraints which configure segmental relations in the syllable domain mirror the theta rules which capture the configurational relations between specifier and head and head and complement in syntax. On the whole, analysis of the complexities of the Chinese syllable will shed light on the cross-linguistic representation of syllable structure, making a significant contribution to phonological typology in general.


Special Language Domain in Which Grammatical Rules May Be Violated Legitimately in Chinese  

Jie Xu and Yewei Qin

“Special language domain” (SLD) refers to domains or areas of language use in which linguistic rules may be violated legitimately. The SLD is similar to “free trade zones,” “special administrative regions,” and “special economic zones” in which tariff, executive, and economic regulations may be legitimately violated to an extent. Innovative use in SLD is another major resource for language evolution and language change as well as language contact and language acquisition, since some temporary and innovative forms of usage in SLD may develop beyond the SLD at a later stage to become part of the core system of linguistic rules. Focusing on relevant grammatical phenomena observed in the Chinese language, poetry in various forms, titles and slogans, and Internet language are the three major types of SLD, and their violation of linguistic rules is motivated differently. Furthermore, although core linguistic rules may be violated in SLD, the violations are still subject to certain limits and restrictions. Only some language-particular rules can be violated legitimately in SLD; the principles of Universal Grammar, applicable generally for all human languages, have to be observed even in the SLD. The study of a special language domain provides an ideal and fascinating window for linguists to understand language mechanisms, explain historical change in language, and plausibly predict the future direction of language evolution.


The Semantics of Chinese Noun Phrases  

Xuping Li

Chinese nominal phrases are typologically distinct from their English counterparts in many aspects. Most strikingly, Chinese is featured with a general classifier system, which not only helps to categorize nouns but also has to do with the issue of quantification. Moreover, it has neither noncontroversial plural markers nor (in)definite markers. Its bare nouns are allowed in various argument positions. As a consequence, Chinese is sometimes characterized as a classifier language, as an argumental language, or as an article-less language. One of the questions arising is whether these apparently different but related properties underscore a single issue: that it is the semantics of nouns that is responsible for all these peculiarities of Mandarin nominal phrases. It has been claimed that Chinese nouns are born as kind terms, from which the object-level readings can be derived, being either existential or definite. Nevertheless, the existence of classifiers in Chinese is claimed to be independent of the kind denotation of its bare nouns. Within the general area of noun semantics, a number of other semantic issues have generated much interest. One is concerned with the availability of the mass/count distinction in Mandarin nominal phrases. Another issue has to do with the semantics of classifiers. Are classifiers required by the noun semantics or the numeral semantics, when occurring in the syntactic context of Numeral/Quantifier-Classifier-Noun? Finally, how is the semantic notion of definiteness understood in article-less languages like Mandarin Chinese? Should its denotation be characterized with uniqueness or familiarity?


Typological Concepts and Descriptive Categories for Chinese Characters  

Jianming Wu

The typological concepts of graphemes, morphemes, and words are key to linguistic analyses for many languages. In the Western linguistic tradition, graphemes are generally defined as the smallest written signs that may stand for a consonant, a vowel, or a syllable in speech. Morphemes are typically regarded as the minimal linguistic forms with a meaning or function. And words are commonly identified as the minimal free form in a sentence. However, these typological concepts are closely related to but are critically different from the three descriptive categories in Chinese, namely, 基础构件jī chǔ gòu jiàn ‘basic components’, 字zì ‘characters’, and 字组zì zǔ ‘character groups’. jī chǔ gòu jiàn ‘basic components’ are the smallest functional units in the formation of Chinese characters. zì ‘characters’ are visually and auditorily distinct units in Chinese. They are connected to the concept of morphemes but mean much more than a morpheme. zì zǔ ‘character groups’ are word-like units, which consist of two or more characters that are joined together, primarily in a disyllabic unit, yet the boundary between syntax and morphology is blurred among character groups.


Evaluative Adverbs in Chinese  

Dingxu Shi

Chinese lexical items like queshi, zhende, and pianpian represent the speaker’s evaluation of or attitude toward the proposition of the clause in which they appear and form a new proposition together with the at-issue proposition. They are termed evaluative adverbs (EA) even though they do not modify the predicate or the clause in the usual sense. Theoretical and practical considerations for analyzing them as adverbs are discussed with reference to similar cases in other languages, and reasons for treating them as evaluative items are presented with reference to their discourse functions. Examples are given to illustrate their properties and functions, including EA of mirativity, EA of confirmation, and EA of probability. Examples are also selected to show the relationship between EA and expected result, as well as that between EA and refutation. The linear order of EA and other preverbal elements is discussed in detail and evidence is presented that EA is not the same as predicative adjectives. These properties and behaviors are summarized into patterns to serve as the basis for analysis within the framework of cartography of left periphery. EA is assumed to have its own maximal projection Eval(uative)P, which is a layer of Split CP and takes TP as a complement directly or indirectly. The structural relationship of EvalP and other layers of Split CP is discussed as a means to explain the behaviors and interaction of these constituents, including ModEpisP, the maximal projection of epistemic modal; NegP, the maximal projection of negator; and EmphP, the maximal projection of emphatic marker shi.


The Passive Construction in Chinese  

Haihua Pan and Xiaoshi Hu

Central to the passive construction in Chinese is the categorial status of the passive marker bei and the syntactic nature of passivization. In this respect, different analyses have been proposed in the literature. The passive marker bei is argued to be a preposition, a verb, or a passivization morpheme. Accordingly, some scholars propose analysis of Chinese bei-passives as non-canonical passives, which are different from the be-passive in English. By contrast, others argue differently and think English be-passivization in terms of unaccusativization also applies to Chinese bei-passives, and the only difference between Chinese and English is that the passivization domain for Chinese is the whole verb phrase while that for English is the verb only. In the article, we will review different proposals on the bei-passive in Chinese by examining their crucial arguments and identifying their potential problems.


Discourse Coherence in Chinese  

Saina Wuyun

Discourse coherence is motivated by the need of the speaker to be understood, which is a psychological phenomenon reflected in the organization of natural discourse. It can be realized via the continuity or recurrence of some element(s) across a span (or spans) of text; alternatively, it can be defined in terms of cohesion, where the interpretation of some element in the discourse is dependent on that of another. The study of Chinese discourse can be traced back to the Han Dynasty, when the area of endeavor known as classical article-logy (Wénzhāngxué: 文章学) was affiliated to literature. The study of discourse coherence of modern linguistic sense starts from the late 1980s, when counterparts of ‘discourse analysis’, ‘discourse coherence’, and ‘cohesion’ in Chinese linguistic study were assigned a roughly equivalent connotation to those in the West. Two different approaches are differentiated based on the different foci of attention on this issue, namely the entity-oriented and the relation-oriented approach. The former focuses on the continuity of a particular element called “topic” in discourse and the topic chain thus formed, while the latter concerns itself with the connective relations within a discourse and the devices being adopted to realize these relations. Existing analyses toward discourse coherence in Chinese provide different classifications of coherence realization, most of which can be grouped into either of these two orientations. Topic continuity is one way of realizing discourse coherence in Chinese. The topic of a discourse is what the discourse is about, and always refers to something about which the speaker/writer assumes the receiver has some knowledge. Headed by the topic, a topic chain is a stretch of discourse composed of more than one clause that functions as a discourse unit in Chinese. A topic can play a continuing or (re)introductory role with regard to the previous discourse and a chaining or contrastive role with regard to the subsequent discourse within a topic chain. It is via these specific functions that the coherence of a discourse is maintained. Traditional approaches to composite sentences and clause clusters in Chinese provide careful description of the realization of both coordination and elaboration relations, which to a large extent are consistent with the systemic functional approach toward the cohesive devices and the Rhetorical Structure Theory framework. These traditional classifications of cohesive relations are still referred to by current studies. Via the connective devices (implicit ones such as the underlying logical relation, or explicit ones such as connective adverbs and conjunctions), the logical relation between adjacent clauses are specified, and in turn a global coherent discourse is constructed. A coherent discourse is a cluster of clauses bearing all kinds of semantic relations realized via explicit or implicit connective devices. The coherence of discourse relies on the internal cohesive relations within a topic chain as well as the connection among all topic chains of the discourse in question. The study of inner-sentential composition as well as the inter-sentential discourse connectiveness are both investigations on the cohesion of a discourse in Chinese.


Hmong-Mien Languages  

David R. Mortensen

Hmong-Mien (also known as Miao-Yao) is a bipartite family of minority languages spoken primarily in China and mainland Southeast Asia. The two branches, called Hmongic and Mienic by most Western linguists and Miao and Yao by Chinese linguists, are both compact groups (phylogenetically if not geographically). Although they are uncontroversially distinct from one another, they bear a strong mutual affinity. But while their internal relationships are reasonably well established, there is no unanimity regarding their wider genetic affiliations, with many Chinese scholars insisting on Hmong-Mien membership in the Sino-Tibetan superfamily, some Western scholars suggesting a relationship to Austronesian and/or Tai-Kradai, and still others suggesting a relationship to Mon-Khmer. A plurality view appears to be that Hmong-Mien bears no special relationship to any surviving language family. Hmong-Mien languages are typical—in many respects—of the non-Sino-Tibetan languages of Southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. However, they possess a number of properties that make them stand out. Many neighboring languages are tonal, but Hmong-Mien languages are, on average, more so (in terms of the number of tones). While some other languages in the area have small-to-medium consonant inventories, Hmong-Mien languages (and especially Hmongic languages) often have very large consonant inventories with rare classes of sounds like uvulars and voiceless sonorants. Furthermore, while many of their neighbors are morphologically isolating, few language groups display as little affixation as Hmong-Mien languages. They are largely head-initial, but they deviate from this generalization in their genitive-noun constructions and their relative clauses (which vary in position and structure, sometimes even within the same language).


Construction-Based Research in China  

Xu Yang and Randy J. Lapolla

Research on construction-based grammar in China began in the late 1990s. Since its initial stages of introduction and preliminary exploration, it has entered a stage of productive and innovative development. In the past two decades, Chinese construction grammarians have achieved a number of valuable research results. In terms of theoretical applications, they have described and explained various types of constructions, such as schematic, partly variable, and fully substantive constructions. They have also applied the constructionist approach to the teaching of Chinese as a second language, proposing some new grammar systems or teaching modes such as the construction-chunk approach (构式-语块教学法), the lexicon-construction interaction model (词汇-构式互动体系), and trinitarian grammar (三一语法). In terms of theoretical innovation, Chinese construction grammarians have put forward theories or hypotheses such as the unification of grammar and rhetoric through constructions, the concept of lexical coercion, and interactive construction grammar (互动构式语法). However, some problems have also emerged in the field of construction grammar approaches. These include a narrow understanding of the concept of construction, a limited range of research topics, and a narrow range of disciplinary perspectives and methods. To ensure the long-term development of construction-based research in China, scholars should be encouraged to make the following changes: First, they should adopt a usage-based approach using natural data, and they should keep up with advances in the study of construction networks. Second, they should broaden the scope of construction-based research and integrate it with language typology and historical linguistics. Finally, they should integrate cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research findings and methods. In this way, construction-based research in China can continue to flourish and make significant contributions to the study of grammar and language.