A Syntactic Investigation into the Non-Canonical Objects in Mandarin Chinese


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Bei CHEN


Awarding Institution
  • Haihua PAN (Supervisor)
Award date1 Sep 2015


This dissertation is concerned with the phenomenon of non-canonical objects (NCO) and the derivation of NCOs in Mandarin Chinese. The central claim is that, semantically, NCOs are optional elements of the verb, while syntactically, these elements do not occupy the canonical object position but receive accusative case directly from the verb, bearing theta roles such as Instrument, Time, Manner, Reason, Role, Source or Location. The derivation of an NCO is determined by the Lexical Conceptual Structure (LCS) of the verb. I develop an extended LCS account which postulates that a verbal root contains not only the minimally obligatory participants of the event structure, but also all the possible participants of the predicate, including the optional elements. I propose that a monosyllabic transitive or unergative verb that denotes an activity can promote an optional element (NCO) through subjective prominence; when an NCO is selected to enter the argument structure, the Patient (CO) is suppressed. There are two ways to project theta roles into argument structure from the extended LCS of the verb in question: a “canonical” way and a “non-canonical” way. The NCO is projected into the argument structure, together with the agent role, in the non-canonical way, which helps account for the suppression of the CO in the NCO construction. The NCO is base-generated in the specifier position of a light verb in the D-structure and surfaces post-verbally after the incorporation of the verb into the light verb before moving into the small v position together.
The centerpiece of this dissertation is a syntactic investigation of the NCO construction. I show that significant differences exist between COs and NCOs, while all seven kinds of NCOs display notable similarities. The main body of the work is divided into three parts. Chapter 3 presents the quantitative methods employed in this dissertation; I conduct a large-scale survey of the NCO constructions found in the Chinese Gigaword Corpus. Using Chinese Word Sketch (CWS), I manually analyze a total of 1,337 verbs one-by-one to determine their ability to host an NCO. From this study, a sub-corpus of NCO-taking verbs is created. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the semantic and syntactic characteristics of different kinds of NCOs and NCO-taking verbs within the sub-corpus. Chapter 6 presents an account of the derivation of the NCO construction using analytical principles drawn from the theories of the lexicon-syntax interface, extended LCS, the light verb approach, and cognitive linguistics.
This work contributes to the study of NCOs in Mandarin Chinese in the following ways:
1. As the large-scale corpus-based study of NCOs and the study of NCOs to combine generative grammatical principles with the cognitive approach, this dissertation promises comprehensive, thoroughgoing results that accurately reflect the real situation of language use.
2. This study reveals significant syntactic differences and co-occurrence constraints between COs and NCOs.
3. The frequency of a verb is found not to be a direct factor in determining whether that verb can take NCOs, although it is a factor to determine the number of NCO types available to it; specifically, the more frequent the verb, the more types of NCOs it can take.
4. The distribution of NCO thematic roles is ranked as follows, from the largest proportion to the smallest proportion:
Instrument ˃ Manner ˃ Location ˃ Reason˃ Role ˃ Time ˃ Source
5. NCO-taking verbs display the following constraints: (a) the verb must be monosyllabic transitive or unergative, and (b) it must denote an activity.
6. Two ways to project theta roles from LCS to argument structure are articulated: a canonical way and a non-canonical way.
7. Finally, this study constitutes the first attempt to account for the co-occurrence constraints of COs and NCOs; the suppression of the CO in the NCO construction is accomplished by adopting the non-canonical projection strategy mentioned above.