The Mandarin Chinese de as a Type <e,t> Nominal Proform: A Syntax-Semantics Approach

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Swarthmore College. Dept. of Linguistics
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In this paper, it is argued that the Mandarin Chinese particle de is analogous to the English pronoun one/ones. Initial evidence of this can be seen in the English sentence he likes red ones (as in, I like green shirts, he likes red ones), which translates word for word to ta xihuan hongse de (lit. 'he like red DE'). At least superficially de and one appear to function identically This analysis, though, is not so simple to assert. Syntactic and semantic analysis of nominal modification in Chinese has long been complicated by the presence, or occasional lack thereof, of de. For example, one can say zang yifu, 'dirty clothes', and yet, one cannot say hen zang yifu 'very dirty clothes.' The correct form of the latter is hen zang de yfiu. The connection between de and one in these situations is not immediately evident. This analysis suggests, however, that such cases are actually examples of adjunction of the de-phrase onto the classifier phrase containing the rightmost noun. This process makes hen zang de yifu more directly analogous to the English 'clothes, dirty ones', as in he brought me lots of clothes, dirty ones or give me those clothes, the dirty ones. It will be argued that in English this construction is the result of adjunction of the NP headed by one, or the DP that contains that NP, to the DP that contains clothes. The question of why Chinese would employ this adjunction strategy for adjectival modification still remains. An answer can be found using a modified version of the schema for de found in Huang (2006). Noting that simple adjectives like zang 'dirty' could not serve as sentence predicates, but complex adjectives, such as those proceeded by hen 'very', as in hen zang 'very dirty' could serve as sentence predicates. Huang argues that Chinese simple adjectives are type e and Chinese complex adjectives are type <e,t<. Noting that most nouns in Chinese are known to be type e, Huang then proposes a type-matching constraint on modification. Thus, the simple adjectives could directly modify nouns, as they are both type e, but the complex adjectives could not. To resolve this mismatch, Huang proposes that Chinese has a type-shifting operation «e,t<,e<, that she identified with the particle de itself. In this paper, that analysis is adjusted slightly: de is a type <e,t< noun, which is what allows it to be directly modified by type <e,t< elements. It is then able to act as a modifier at the N' level, or higher if it is moved from that position. Further, it can be shown that there is a cross linguistic "specificity constraint" on such modification structures which forces the phrase resulting from that modification to be of type e, which accounts for several facts about the distribution of specific and non-specific indefinites in both Chinese and English. Finally, just as Huang (2006)'s schema for de applied not only to occurrence of de between complex adjectives and nouns, this paper argues that the analysis described above can be extended to many occurrences of de in Chinese, including several which cannot be analyzed under Huang's original proposal.