The syntax of Mandarin dative alternation : An argument from quantifier scope interpretation

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-222
Number of pages36
Journal / PublicationInternational Journal of Chinese Linguistics
Issue number2
Online published10 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


This paper investigates the syntax of dative constructions (DCs) in Mandarin from the perspective of quantifier scope interpretation. In the literature, doubly quantified DCs such as Xiaoming ji-le yi-zhang mingxinpian gei mei-yi-wei laoshi ‘Xiaoming mailed one postcard to every teacher’ have been claimed to be scopally ambiguous, and different syntactic analyses have been proposed based on this observation. Crucially, however, DCs with the universal direct object (DO) preceding the existential indirect object (IO), e.g., Xiaoming ji-le mei-yi-zhang mingxinpian gei yi-wei laoshi ‘Xiaoming mailed every postcard to one teacher’, appear to be not ambiguous, where only the existential IO seems to take wide scope. This problem, which we call the dative puzzle, has not been systematically explored, either theoretically or experimentally. To fill this gap, we conducted an experiment on the scope interpretation of dative sentences in Mandarin, which confirms the above observation. A syntactic analysis for Mandarin DCs is proposed accordingly, where it is argued that (i) DCs share the same underlying structure with shift constructions (SCs) of the form [Subj V-gei IO DO], both containing a causative vP embedded under an action verb (cf. Cheng et al. 1999); (ii) the surface form of a DC is derived by an optional, vP-internal scrambling of the DO from the lowest complement position to an adjunct position; and (iii) such scrambling does not affect scope interpretation. Our proposal suggests that, insofar as inherently ditransitive verbs are concerned, Mandarin DCs and SCs are derivationally related, and the observed dative puzzle is shown to follow from the structural hierarchy of the advocated base syntax of DCs.

Research Area(s)

  • dative alternation, dative construction, shift construction, quantifier scope, Mandarin