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A Study of Chinese Ergative Alternation

Author: NiRong
Tutor: MeiDeMing
School: Shanghai International Studies University
Course: English Language and Literature
Keywords: ergative alternation RVC (resultative verb compound) syntax-semantics interface small clause Chinese
CLC: H15
Type: PhD thesis
Year: 2008
Downloads: 418
Quote: 3
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Ever since Perlmutter’s Unaccusative Hypothesis, researchers have widely accepted the view that intransitive verbs are subdivided into unergative verbs and unaccusative verbs. Our discussion is restricted to those unaccusative verbs that can participate in inchoative/causative alternation, namely, ergative verbs. As a language without overt morphological change, Chinese is hard to be defined as an ergative language; however, as a universal linguistic phenomenon, ergativity also exists in Chinese. It is a pity that Chinese ergative alternation has not received adequate attention, considering its importance.This thesis investigates Chinese ergative alternation, chiefly aiming to provide an exhaustive characterization of semantic and syntactic features that are responsible for alternation. We hope that a deeper understanding can be gained of the nature of ergativity in Chinese and its relationship with other constructions, such as the bei-construction, the middle construction, the ba-construction, the topicalized structure, the verb-copying construction and so on. Deviant from the previous literature, this dissertation attaches great significance to Chinese resultative construction, since many Chinese RVCs (Resultative Verb Compounds) exhibit ergative nature. Some answers are to be provided concerning the following questions: What is an ergative RVC? In what way can RVCs be classified? Do all RVCs participate in ergative alternation? What are the semantic and syntactic characterizations of ergative RVCs? What are the diagnostics for ergative RVCs?The theoretical underpinnings of this study are syntax-semantics interface approach, in which both the syntax and the lexicon constrain the association of possible interpretations with possible structural positions. Following this interface approach, firstly, this dissertation gives an account of the classification of Chinese ergative verbs and RVCs respectively. The former are divided into four categories: verbs of change of physical state; verbs of change of psychological state; deadjectival verbs; verbs of self change. As for the latter, in light of the nature of the subjects in their corresponding causative structures, we claim that ergative RVCs fall into three groups: a) the subject is agentive causer (Group A); b) the subject can be either agentive causer, or non-agentive causer (Group B); c) the subject can be only non-agentive causer (Group C). After that, semantic features are elaborated that contribute to ergative alternation from five aspects: change of state; causativity; agentivity; telicity; and animacy of the object.After an overview of the semantic characteristics of ergative expression, we go on to explore the workable diagnostics for ergative verbs and RVCs in Chinese. Doubtlessly, an ergative verb can enter the alternation between“NP1+V+NP2”and“NP2+V”; at the same time, an ergative verb can appear in the periphrastic causative structure“NP1+shi‘make’+NP2+V”as well. As far as Chinese ergative RVCs are concerned, it is found that they can alternate between“NP1+VP+NP2”and“NP2+VP”, no matter whether V1 is transitive, unergative or adjective. However, considering that not all ergative RVCs are able to fit into the shi-construction, we, in turn, suggest that the ba-construction be used as a more favorable diagnostic. While discussing the diagnostics for Chinese ergative expressions, we differentiate intransitve ergative structures from passivization, topicalization and middle construction in the hope of having a better understanding of the attribute of ergative alternation.Followed is the discussion on how the subjects of different attributes are selected in the derivation from intransitive ergative to causative ergative structures. Ergative RVCs are only those that can adhere to Simpon’s Generalization (resultative attributes are predicated of objects, whether surface objects or underlying objects), which serves as a theoretical foundation of the Small Clause theory. In view of the inadequacy of this theory, we put forward an Improved Small Clause theory, proposing dual vP projection, including vP[CAUSE]and vP[DO]. The former indicates that the logical subjects of V1 and V2 are different. The latter suggests that the logical subjects of V1 and V2 are the same. It is revealed that the lower vP decides the nature of the higher vP, exhibiting some complementary distribution.In summary, the present dissertation constitutes one of the pioneering studies of Chinese ergativity and purports to supplement data from Chinese in the hope of stimulating further and more systematic study on the lexical-semantics and syntax relationship.

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