Morphology & Syntax Workshop

November 22, 2019 | 11:30AM
Cobb 302

 Jackie Lai (UChicago)


Verb doubling and durative/frequency expressions: On the Chinese postverbal field



Mandarin Chinese is widely believed to ban the occurrence of two postverbal XPs (the Phrase Structure Condition, or PSC; see Huang 1982 et seq.). The ungrammaticality of (1), for instance, which involves an object argument and a postverbal durative/frequency expression, is commonly taken to support the PSC.  


(1) *Zhangsan qi-le        ma     {san   tian / si-ge xiaoshi}        

       Zhangsan ride-PFV horse   three day   four-CL hour        

       ‘Zhangsan rode {for three days/for four hours}.’  


One way to save (1) is through the use of the verb-doubling strategy, which results in a sentence that apparently conforms to the PSC.


(2) Zhangsan  qi     ma     qi-le        {san    tian / si-ge     xiaoshi}       

      Zhangsan  ride horse ride-PFV  three day    four-CL hour   


This presentation explores the connection between verb doubling and the PSC. Contrary to the common wisdom, I argue that verb doubling is not prompted by the PSC. Rather, verb doubling is actually a side effect of TP-internal VP-fronting in the language (when such a movement occurs). In fact, when the object argument in (1) is definite (e.g. nei-pi ma ‘that horse’), the sentence is no longer ungrammatical. Thus it appears that (1) is bad not because of the purported PSC.


This novel perspective on Chinese verb doubling also enables us to make sense of the surprising new fact that durative/frequency expressions are obligatory in a verb-doubling sentence, although these expressions are generally optional.  


(3) Zhangsan qi-le         nei-pi    ma    (san   tian /  si-ge     xiaoshi)       

     Zhangsan ride-PFV  that-CL horse  three day   four-CL hour

     ‘Zhangsan rode the horse (for three days/for four hours).’ 


(4) Zhangsan qi    nei-pi    ma     qi-le        *(san    tian / si-ge      xiaoshi)       

     Zhangsan ride that-CL horse ride-PFV    three day   four-CL hour


This can be readily explained by none of the existing accounts (Huang 1982, 1992; Paul 2002; Cheng 2007), but can be shown to follow from the current account. If this is successful, we then not only illuminate how verb doubling comes about in Chinese, but also remove a common source of support for the PSC.