14.458, Review: Lang Description/Historical Ling: Shi(2002)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-458. Sun Feb 16 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.458, Review: Lang Description/Historical Ling: Shi(2002)

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Date:  Sat, 15 Feb 2003 19:03:51 +0000
From:  Karen Chung <karchung at ntu.edu.tw>
Subject:  The Establishment of Modern Chinese Grammar

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Sat, 15 Feb 2003 19:03:51 +0000
From:  Karen Chung <karchung at ntu.edu.tw>
Subject:  The Establishment of Modern Chinese Grammar

Shi, Yuzhi (2002) The Establishment of Modern Chinese Grammar: The
Formation of the Resultative Construction and Its Effects.  John
Benjamins Publishing Company, 262pp, hardback ISBN 90-272-3062-5
(Eur), 1-58811-203-9 (US), $98.00, Studies in Language Companion
Series 59.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-1216.html

Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University

This book, a revision of the author's Ph.D. dissertation, attempts to
identify and trace the origins of the resultative construction in
Chinese, which the author considers 'the most fundamental syntactic
change in the history of Chinese' (p. 228).  By 'resultative' is meant
constructions with a verb describing an action, plus a morpheme
indicating a telic outcome of that action, such as _chi1bao3_ [eat +
full] 'to eat to the point of being full', or _da3po4_ [strike +
break] 'to [hit and] break something'. Shi collected his data from a
variety of texts, both classical and vernacular, including the
Confucian _Analects_, Tang dynasty vernacular Buddhist texts
(_bian4wen2_), Yuan drama, and novels such as _The Dream of the Red
Chamber_.  Modern examples, some apparently made up, and some from
non-Mandarin dialects, are also cited.

The author believes that the VR (verb + resultative) construction had
its origins in the separable resultative structure with an order of
VXR, in which X could be an object, adverb, or negative
particle. Subsequently the V fused with the R so that there could be
no intervening material, thus yielding the modern VR form. The author
posits three phases in the emergence of the resultative construction:

(1) Around 800, VR phrases whose Rs were the underlying predicate of O
(the object) started to appear in VRO form; VR phrases whose Rs were
the underlying predicate of V (i.e.  expressed the temporal internal
structure of the verb) reached a low degree of fusion.
(2) Around A.D. 1000, VR phrases whose Rs were the underlying
predicate of V reached a high degree of fusion.
(3) Ca. A.D. 1200, VR phrases whose Rs were the underlying predicate
of the subject (i.e. the agent of the verb) became loosely
fused. (p. 229)

The key factors Shi posits in the formation of the resultative
construction are (1) the emergence of disyllabification in Chinese,
which promoted fusion of the V and R elements; (2) idiomatization of
the most frequently used collocations, which first produced individual
lexical items but eventually a generalized syntactic pattern; (3)
elimination of the _er2_ 'and' connective, which produced both
resultative constructions and serial verbs; and (4) establishment of a
verb-result relationship in the construction, in which telic states
followed and other adverbs preceded the verb.

Shi believes the VR construction was the motivating cause behind
several major changes in Chinese syntax. Because in many cases an
object could not for various reasons immediately follow the VR
construction, objects needed to be placed elsewhere in the sentence,
though VRO was still an option for some verb types.

If the object was definite, it could be preceded by the particle _ba3_
and placed before the VR construction, to form a 'disposal'
construction, e.g. _Wo3 ba3 shu1 kan4wan2le_ 'I finished reading the
book.' One specific book is referred to here; an indefinite reading is
not possible. Shi notes that some verbs in initial position in serial
verb constructions became grammaticalized into 'prepositions' or
co-verbs, or in this case the object marker _ba3_.

If the object was indefinite, it could be accommodated under the new
'verb copying' construction, e.g. _ta1 he1 jiu3 he1zui4le_ 'He drank
until drunk/he got drunk' - no particular bottle of alcohol is
referred to here. Other possibilities were to topicalize the patient
by fronting it, with or without the subject: _Shu1 yi3jing1
kan4wan2le._ '[As for] the book, [I] have already finished reading
[it].' Shi believes all of these structures, and even the comparative
_bi3_ construction, are traceable to the emergence of the VR

Some of Shi's points are open to debate. Shi proposes three types of
resultatives distributed over a cline (p. 32-33): 'syntactic
collocation' (e.g. _kan4wai1_ 'to misinterpret, put a wrong spin on
s.t.'), 'verb + bound resultative' (e.g._xue2hui4_ 'to learn s.t.
thoroughly'), and 'compound verb' '(e.g._kan4kai1_ 'to view s.t.  with
detachment' and _shuo1ming2_ 'to explain'). He attempts to distinguish
the first two categories by claiming that expressions in the first
category are synthetic, concatenated syntactically, rather than being
set phrases; in the second he includes idiomatized phrases; and in the
third, lexified compounds. He claims that what they all have in common
is that they do not allow any intervening material, in contrast to the
situation in Middle Chinese.

In my view, however, there are only two categories: separable
resultative *constructions* and inseparable verb *compounds*.  Among
the examples cited by Shi in all three categories, there is only one
true compound, and that is _shuo1ming2_, 'to explain', which cannot be
separated under any circumstances. All the others, such as
_zhua1jin3_, 'to hang on tightly, emphasize', can take not only the
affirmative and negative potential forms, with an inserted _de2_ or
_bu4_, but also sometimes intensifiers such as _de hen3_ which modify
the resultative satellite, e.g. _chi1 de hen3 bao3_ 'to eat to the
point of being very full', _zuo4 de hen3 lei4_ 'to become very tired
working at something.' In response to this, Shi claims that the
potential form is a different construction entirely and does not
constitute an exception to his rule (p. 33ff).  Yet the criterion of
whether or not intervening material of any kind is allowed - which is
Shi's own acknowledged criterion - is the one thing that can neatly
distinguish constructions from compounds.  Shi does discuss the
potential form in chapters 4-6, but fails to address and solve this
fundamental issue.

Shi claims that the R of a VR construction must be monosyllabic
(p. 39), which would exclude trisyllabic phrases like _xi3gan1jing4 _
'to wash clean' (Shi gives only _xi3jing4_ as an example on p. 33) and
_jiang3qing1chu3_ 'to say s.t. clearly', or even four-syllable ones
like _jiao1dai4qing1chu3 _ 'to give explicit instructions'. He does
however include three-syllable constructions in his 'first category'
of syntactic resultatives, like _yan2jiu4qiong2_ 'to research
exhaustively' on p. 32. On p. 85 he quotes a four-syllable example
from 1200 A.D.: _yue1su4 fen1ming2_ 'to strictly discipline'. He
claims that such expressions have a low degree of fusion, and that
they do not allow objects; yet objects, fronted in a _ba3_
construction, are certainly possible for some of these expressions,
e.g. _Qing3 ni3 ba3 suo3you3de wan3 xi3gan1jing4_. 'Please wash all of
the dishes.' This issue is not fully clarified in the book.

A relatively minor point: Shi notes (p. 13) that 'elements in the R
position often lost their independent tonal values'. This is true of
Beijing Mandarin, but not of all other varieties of standard spoken
Chinese; Taiwan Mandarin usually preserves the full tonal values of
all morphemes, including resultatives, excepting only a very small
closed group of function particles.

One of Shi's many interesting observations: unlike English
resultatives, such as 'to lick the platter clean', a change of state
indicated by a Chinese resultative does not have to immediately follow
the V action; e.g. _chi1pang4_ 'to eat until fat' takes place over an
extended period of time (p. 30). Shi also notes that the transitivity
of a VR construction is determined by neither element alone, but the
two together (p. 35), and that its interpretation is mainly determined
by what makes sense in the particular context in which it occurs
rather than by any strict syntactic criteria. Shi offers many other
such inspired insights which must be left unmentioned here due to
space restraints.

It seems that this book went to press without much editorial or
typographical quality control at all. Sometimes a point is repeated on
the same page in almost the same words (e.g. p. 3). There are
inaccurate or not very polished 'Chinese English' translations (e.g.,
'He beat a fly to death.' [p. 1] and 'He patted one fly dead.'
[p. 166] instead of the 'He swatted a fly [and killed it]/He killed a
fly [by swatting it].'). There are many misspellings, both of English
words and Pinyin Romanization, and tones are not indicated. There are
incorrect characters, including some that apparently had been
automatically converted from simplified to traditional form by
computer, and the wrong option chosen; the word _lei4_ 'tired' is
consistently written with an incorrect character. Some English words
are split by a hyphen even though they do not occur at the end of a
line. Margins and spacing are not always even.  As it stands, this
book requires a good deal of patience and indulgence on the part of
the reader. Moreover, the book is overpriced, even considering its
relatively limited market and the average prices of scholarly books
these days.

Still, the merits and original findings of this book, which are many
and noteworthy, should not be overshadowed by its shortcomings. It
makes a significant contribution to the study of resultatives in
Chinese and their historical development -- I personally gained many
valuable and useful insights and ideas from this book -- and it should
be available in any institutional research library with a linguistics
section, especially if it were carefully edited and reissued.


Karen Steffen Chung teaches English and linguistics in the Department
of Foreign Languages and Literatures of National Taiwan University in
Taipei. Her chief current research interests are phonetics, prosody
and Chinese morphology; see her websites at


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