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The verb copy construction and the post-verbal constraint in Chinese


This study presents a study of the verb copy construction (VCC) in Chinese from diachronic and synchronic perspectives. In the VCC, the verb must be duplicated before a post-verbal adjunct, in the presence of another post-verbal constituent, as in (1).

ta jiao zhangsan *(jiao) xing le
he call Zhang San call wake up ASP
‘He woke up Zhang San.’

The VCC has been argued to represent a post-verbal constraint (PVC), which I define as ‘A single verb may not be followed by more than one constituent, unless all of the constituents are subcategorized elements.’

Given that the VCC and PVC did not exist in Old and Middle Chinese, this study examines how and why they emerged diachronically, and proposes that they are a reaction to a syntactic and pragmatic/semantic conflict which developed on post-verbal adjuncts: syntactically, the post-verbal adjuncts are motivated to appear in the position directly following the main verb, due to pattern pressure from compound verbs of the form VC; pragmatically and semantically, however, the post-verbal adjuncts must remain in sentence-final position, the position of greatest informativeness. The VCC represents a perfect reconciliation of this conflict: in a VCC, the post-verbal adjunct directly follows a verb, and yet is also in sentence-final position.

The other focus of the study is the formal analysis of the VCC in Lexical-Functional Grammar. In previous studies, the VCC has been analyzed as a single-headed structure, with the first VP as an adjunct to the second. Based on historical evidence, facts of aspect attachment and of adjunct distribution, I propose that the VCC is a coordinate VP, with each conjunct as a head. I further propose that the VP containing all subcategorized arguments of the verb stands in a formal subsumption relation to each other VP. This subsumption constraint directly explains why that VP must be the first VP if it occurs at all in the VCC.


Fang, J. The verb copy construction and the post-verbal constraint in Chinese; combining a formal approach with a diachronic perspective on Chinese verb phrases. Saarbrucken, Germany: VDM Verlag; 2009.