Understanding what verb phrases and adjective phrases have in common: Evidence from Mandarin alternations

Charles Tsz-Kwan Lam, Purdue University


The goal of the present study is to investigates the relation between syntax and semantics. To this end, this study looks at the Mandarin verbal alternation (ba-construction and SVO order) and comparative alternation (transitive comparative and bi-comparative). In both alternations, it is observed that one variant is selective to its complement predicates. This study proposes that the selectivity of ba-construction and the transitive comparative in syntax comes from the semantic boundedness. Specifically, the selective functional head (little-v0 or Deg0, respectively) is hypothesized to require its complements to be bounded, which can be encoded in various ways, such as secondary predicates or perfective marking in the verbal domain and closed scale adjectives or measure phrase in the adjectival domain. On the other hand, the SVO order and the bi-comparative are hypothesized to be unselective and compatible with all types of predicates. A two-part experimental study was conducted to test the hypothesis. The judgment task elicits informants' acceptance of the alternations in a 7-point Likert scale. The comprehension task, in which participants indicate their interpretation of sentences by choosing a picture, shows that participants are sensitive to the presence of the bounded markers tested in the experiment. The results from the acceptability judgment task confirmed the hypothesis that a variant (ba and transitive comparative) in each alternation selects only bounded predicates, whereas the other variant (SVO order and bi-comparative) is unselective with regard to boundedness, as evidenced by similar acceptability ratings across the different configurations with regard to boundedness. The results have two implications. First, boundedness shows that semantic factors may affect syntactic selection. This, in turn, suggests a tight mapping between syntax and semantics. Specifically, this study argues that boundedness is an example of how formal feature(s) of a functional category may relate to semantic behaviors. Second, the verbal and adjectival domains shows striking parallels in their syntax and semantics. The functional categories (v 0 and Deg0) and their complements are similar in both their syntax and semantics. The present study contributes by providing a unified analysis for the cross-categorial behaviors.




Wilbur, Purdue University.

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