Jerome L. Packard. 2000. _The Morphology of Chinese:
A Linguistic and Cognitive Approach_. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, xvi, 335 pp. ISBN 0-521-77112-9
Reviewed by: Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University
_The Morphology of Chinese_ (hereafter, _Morphology_)
is a most welcome addition to the literature of linguistic studies
on the Chinese language. Chinese morphology has in the past
been somewhat neglected; perhaps books like this one and
Packard's earlier (1998) _New Approaches to Chinese Word
Formation: Morphology, Phonology and the Lexicon in
Ancient and Modern Chinese_, an impressive collection of
papers on Chinese word formation, are signs that Chinese
morphology is beginning to come into its own and receive
Richard Sproat recently posted a very informative review of
_Morphology_ (http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-11.html#1), providing
a clear summary of its main content. Rather than
attempting to reproduce what has already been so ably done,
I will assume Sproat's comments as background information
on the book, and concentrate on aspects of the study that
struck me personally for whatever reason.
Sproat's remark that Chinese morphology "...may seem
to many to be almost an oxymoron" echoes Packard's opening
comments in his Introduction, and also my own experience of
popular reactions to this area of study. Yet the bare-bones
structure of Chinese makes it particularly interesting as an
object of morphological research. Beyond the well known
absence of inflection in Chinese, Chinese also has few
morphemes that have developed a distinct external form for
the exclusive use of, for example, affixation. So does Chinese
have affixation? It is harder to be sure in Chinese, and you
must look closely at things like _structure_, _function_ and
_productivity_ rather than, for example, phonetically reduced
bound forms. And Packard does this in this book.
Packard concentrates his explorations on two word types,
bisyllabic nouns and verbs (1). This limits the study, yet also
gives it desirable focus, an opportunity to look at specific
word types in depth rather than trying to do everything at
once. Perhaps classification and analysis of the two word
types could have been separated more than they are in the
book; sometimes important distinctions between the two seem
to be glossed over. But the book paves the way for similar
future studies, and there is plenty left to study.
Packard's terminology overall is clear and functional.
There are, however, a few frequently-used terms which are not
explicitly defined, the most important one being 'gestalt word'
(Chapter 4 is entitled "Gestalt Chinese Words"). It becomes
clear in the course of the book that this is essentially what a
Chinese would call a _ci2_, a (possibly polysyllabic) 'word',
as opposed to a _zi4_, or single-syllable morpheme
corresponding to a written Chinese character. I have not seen
the term 'gestalt word' used elsewhere, and found it a bit hard
to get used to. A clear definition of what it is early in the book
would have been appreciated.
The distinction between free vs. bound morphemes features
prominently in Packard's classifications, e.g. on p. 91 he divides
verbs into: verb word + verb bound root (e.g. _jie2shu4_ 'to
conclude'), verb bound root + verb word (_xiang3shou4_ 'to
enjoy'), verb bound root + verb bound root (_bian4bie2_ 'to
differentiate'), and so on. But I wonder if it is necessary to set
up so many categories based merely on whether a morpheme
is bound or not. One reader may have had the same doubt,
since Packard addresses this on p. 167: '...the most compelling
reason to include such information as part of the lexical entry
is that the value of a lexical entry on those variables serves to
restrict the recursive properties of lexical items in a principled
way.' This means, in essence, that a free root (X-0 [raised -0])
or 'word' 'is the only morphological system primitive that is
allowed to expand', including into 'a string that includes itself'
(p. 168). It seems to me that a high price has been paid in
terms of numbers of categories if the main goal of distinguishing
free 'root words' from 'bound roots', plus word-forming affixes
and grammatical affixes, is to state that a free root word is the
only element in the system that can expand and allows recursion.
Furthermore, it is often difficult to say definitively whether a
morpheme is free or bound, since there is a good deal of overlap
and numerous ambiguous cases. Packard addresses this issue in
part on p. 68, saying that a morpheme is classified as 'free' or
'bound' *according to a specific usage*, and not all possible
meanings of a morpheme. However, the 'free' or 'bound' nature
of a morpheme simply is not that clear-cut in Chinese, and it also
varies over time and according to geographical area.
The large number of categories based on 'free' and 'bound'
properties seems to have come at the expense of leaving out
other important information about the words. As regards verbs,
for example, something I expected to find in Packard's system
and did not was a classification of action, copular and purely
stative verbs; and, for the action verbs, whether they are
transitive or intransitive - all of which seem to me to be more
fundamental and useful distinctions than whether the morpheme
elements are free or bound. Packard does, however, offer an
interesting discussion on theta role structure on p. 250ff. And
his distinctions between _xu1ci2_, function or grammatical
words, and _shi2ci2_, content words_ (p. 71ff) , are useful in
contrasting grammatical suffixes like the agentive _zhe3_
'one who...' as opposed to the more lexical _yuan2_ 'member,
Headedness is another key concept which Packard rightly
pays close attention to. Packard (citing Zwicky) distinguishes
between the 'semantic head' and 'structural head' of a word
formation. 'Semantic head' he defines as 'a more general
instance of what the entire word means', e.g. _che1_ 'vehicle'
is the head of _qi4che1_ 'automobile', since a 'car' is a specific
type of the larger category of 'vehicle'. Packard describes
'structural head' as 'a head defined by reference to grammatical
rather than semantic values', as in _yun2cai3_ [cloud + color]
[p. 195], which is a kind of 'cloud' even though the 'cloud'
part is on the left'. (2)
This brings us to Packard's Headedness Principle, which states
that '(bisyllabic) noun words have nominal constituents on the
right and verb words have verbal constituents on the left.' (p. 39).
I find here a discrepancy between the name of the principle and
its content. The first problem is that we do not seem to agree on
what a 'head' is. Packard defines a 'canonical head' as "a function
of the form class of a word...: verbs have their canonical head
on the left, and nouns have their canonical head on the right."
(p. 194). I propose, rather, that a 'head' (1) is the morpheme
which corresponds to the form class (i.e. part of speech) of the
word or construction as a whole; (2) is the superordinate
element modified by the subordinate element(s) in the formation,
if there is/are such; and (3) may or may not appear in the surface
form of a word or construction.'
Saying, as Packard does, that a verbal formation tends to
have a verbal element on the left is not the same as saying
that it is left-headed. If the verb on the left is followed by a
noun, the relationship is normally verb + object and not
verb + modifying material, thus no head can be identified.
If the second element is also a verb, the relationship is likely
to be (though not always) a _coordinate_ one, in which both
elements perform the same verbal function on a basis of
equality, as in the case of coordinate formations like
_xi3huan1_ [to feel joy + to feel pleasure] 'to like', and neither
can be said to modify or be subordinate to the other. This kind
of formation is usually considered 'headless'; or one could say
_both_ elements are heads.
Packard seems to be partly influenced by the occurrence
of verbs on the left in VO type constructions, such as
_chu1ban3_ [to put out + edition] 'to publish'. We will set
aside for the moment whether these constructions are 'words'
(and I think they are); the problem with these items is that
they require a separate analysis from pure transitive verbs
with no object element, because they are derived from phrases complete
with objects, and are naturally going to have the verb
on the left; Chinese is basically an SVO language. (3) This does
_not_ mean that objectless transitive verbs usually have their
head on the left - and indeed they do not; they are generally
right-headed or headless. VO formations are a red herring
that detracts away from the true nature of headedness in
The 'verbs have their head on the left' rule also means that
Packard needs to treat adverb + verb formations, of which there
are an enormous number in Chinese, as 'exceptions' to his
Headedness Principle. The verbal head of adverb + verb
formations such as _mo4du2_ [silent + to read] 'to read
silently', _gong1ren4_ [publicly + to admit] 'to acknowledge
publicly', and _lian2shu3_ [jointly + to sign] 'to jointly sign
(e.g. a petition)' , is on the _right_; and this is a widespread
pattern rather than a 'relatively small' set of exceptions (p. 63).
Chinese is a dyed-in-the-wool right-headed language in all
parts of speech, with few exceptions - when, that is, there is
a head at all. It would seem that Packard's 'Headedness Principle'
Packard lists nouns such as _xian1zhi1_ [first + to know]
'prophet' as, again, 'exceptions' to the Headedness Principle
(p. 62, Chapter 3, "Chinese Word Components"), failing to
analyze them as a separate category of _exocentric_ words
with their own rules. This type of noun is in fact derived
from a _phrase_ with an omitted noun head: it means, literally,
'[one who] knows first', the 'one' being the noun head, which
is absent in the surface form, but would occur on the _right_
of the expression if it did appear. There are numerous places
in the book where the reader would benefit from having
endocentric forms, like _zhi1shi4_ [knowledge + acquaintance]
'knowledge' and _zhi1xi1_ [to know + to be familiar with]
'to know, be informed of something' (both headless, or with
two heads), distinguished from exocentric ones like _zhi1ke4_ (Packard
glosses this as [know + guest], though here _zhi1_
means 'to administer') [to administer + guests] '*person* in
charge at a reception' (an outdated expression). This distinction
is important, since the endocentric formations may be either
nouns or verbs, but the exocentric ones are usually nouns.
This is comparable to how it would be useful to keep VO
formations out of verb analysis at the first level of analysis.
I found Chapter 5, "X-bar Analysis of Chinese Words",
difficult to read. First of all, it branches off (pardon the pun)
into words with more than two syllables, contrary to what
Packard concentrates on in the rest of the study. It feels as
though a leap has been made into a whole new game,
without the rules having been properly explained beforehand.
And being a non-formalist (who nevertheless is ready to read
anything of value and interest, regardless of 'framework'
or lack thereof), I felt the need to do some review work on
X-bar theory before proceeding (4), since Packard does not
provide clear explanatory background in the chapter. Such
information may be considered too basic for this kind of
work; yet concessions like this to non-formalists could
perhaps serve to broaden the appeal of the book.
In spite of the large amount of time and effort I invested
in this chapter, I must say I ended up agreeing with reader Xu
Liejiong who asked: 'since the present proposal is, on the
surface, little more than a framework that specifies different
ways of concatenating various types of morphemes, what do
we lose if it is not presented using X-bar notation?' (p. 135).
Packard says (in one of his two defenses) that it captures the
insight that 'at a basic level, the primitives that are manipulated
(i.e. Xn [raised capital N]) and the rules used to manipulate
them (i.e. phrase structure rules) are the same as those that
account for the properties of syntax...' (p. 136). While I
largely agree with the insight, I do not agree that X-bar
notation is a very useful or convincing way to present it; I
rather found it to be an extra piece of baggage that did not
really clarify the relationship between 'word' and 'syntax'.
This relationship is adequately expressed, in my view, with
a classification based on the coordinate or subordinate
relations between the elements of a formation, especially
when only two-morpheme structures are involved. Also,
p. 196-215 give numerous examples - many rather creative -
of X-bar analysis of English words, which I found very
interesting in its own right. But is this amount of space for
English examples justified in a book on Chinese morphology?
Overall, I found the chapter a complex digression away from
the main story of how words are put together in Chinese,
though I readily concede the personal prejudices I brought
to the reading of this chapter, in spite of efforts to reach
Throughout his book, Packard offers a wide array of
colorful Chinese examples, with apropos English glosses
which are often very clever - one I especially like is 'bait
and switch' for the idiom _gua4 yang2tou2, mai4 gou3rou4_
('to hang a sheep's head and sell dog meat', p. 113,
Chapter 4). In the chapter on lexicalization, Chapter 6,
Packard traces the derivation of a superficially perplexing
word, _wei2mian4_ [miniature + flour] (p.277), which,
having undergone a series of concatenations and
abbreviations, means 'mini-van' (a vehicle shaped like a loaf
of bread, thus the 'flour'). It is an entertaining example of
some of the amazing twists and turns a Chinese word may
take before settling down in a form with a possibly startling
exterior, typically via layers of abbreviation. Packard also
gives good examples of meaning shift and specialization
of morphemes (p.280), e.g. how _tie3_ 'iron' has come to
be used to mean something 'sure, inflexible, or guaranteed',
as in _tie3fan4wan3_ 'iron rice bowl, guaranteed
employment', and how it has been further extended to
create expressions like _da3tie3_, which originally
meant 'to forge [hit] iron', but now can mean 'abolish
In Chapter 7, Packard unfolds a discussion of what kinds
of lexical information are stored in the brain, and in what
form. Packard concludes (p. 303) that 'All Chinese
morphemes, whether bound or free, are listed in the mental
lexicon, but only the free morphemes are available for direct
lexical access. All complex words known to the speaker are
also listed, in precompiled form, with the exception of
grammatical words, which are constructed on-line. In
addition, the word-formation rules...which represent the
knowledge of word structure, are also part of the Chinese
speaker's lexicon.' Though my basis for judgment is
mainly personal introspection and observation of the speech
of others, I generally agree with this, though I am really
not ready to go along with Packard's 'grammatical word'
analysis (e.g. I _don't_ accept _chi1guo4le_ '[I/someone]
have/has eaten' as a word, as Packard does [p. 192]);
Packard's views on grammatical words, however, are one
way of interpreting the data, and are internally consistent.
Some of the information in the book applies less to
Taiwan or Singapore Mandarin, e.g. the connection between lexicalization
and the neutral tone (Chapter 7, p. 238ff), since
the southern varieties of Mandarin tend to have few neutral
tones except in a small set of high-frequency function words.
This is an observation and not a criticism, since what
Packard is offering is a consistent description of standard
Beijing-based Mandarin, rather than trying to cover local
varieties as well.
Chapter 8, the concluding chapter, offers a neat and
efficient wrap-up of the main points covered in the text,
and is a useful summary for reference, though it is
concentrated and could not replace a careful working
through of the book.
Occasional 'words from our sponsor' were a bit jarring
to this non-formalist, e.g. on p. 19: '...the word is
biologically hard-wired and psychologically real, and
has a tendency in natural language to 'weaken' the status
of individual component morphemes, undermining their
ability to function as free forms.' There are those of us
who think that the extension of the 'hard-wiring'
computer metaphor brings inappropriate analogies into
our understanding of how the brain acquires, stores,
and processes linguistic and other information.
Fortunately remarks like these are only made in passing
and one's personal views on UG theory don't need to
enter into one's evaluation of the study as a whole.
Proofreading was obviously done very meticulously;
almost no typos were spotted in a close reading of the
book. There is one odd form that occurs a number of
times on p. 23-24: _suo3xie3_ [to ask for + to write]
'to abbreviate'; the first morpheme should be _suo1_
'to contract, shrink', and it is cited correctly in other parts
of the book. And there is no apostrophe in _cangai_
'to participate in reform' (p. 274, p. 278), to chunk it as
_can'gai_, but this is extremely minor.
The page design, with its wide outer margins, is
comfortable for the reader, and provides lots of space
for penciled notes. I, like Sproat, am grateful for the
use of Chinese characters throughout the text, though
I would also have preferred the traditional characters -
simplified characters are of course now used by the
majority of Chinese numberwise, but the traditional
ones are perhaps more international. Pinyin was a
good choice of Romanization systems, and many
readers will certainly appreciate Packard's inclusion
of tone marks, which many writers omit.
Though I don't necessarily agree with Packard in
every case about what should be considered a 'word'
in Chinese, I do agree with his conclusion, that
'the _word_ constitutes a real rather than
epiphenomenal [Webster's: 'a phenomenon that occurs
with and seems to result from another but has no
reciprocal effect or subsequent influence] construct'
...'In the end it may also turn out to have been merely
a convenient abstraction, but for now, the existence of
the _word_ is about as real as it gets.' [p.316-317].
A study to define, analyze and categorize Chinese
'words' was in order and this one certainly promises
to stimulate lots of constructive discussion and
While I have highlighted a number of points on
which I disagree with Packard, I am really very happy
that he wrote this book and that I have had the
opportunity both to read it and share my reactions
to it with others. Margins crammed with notes are
evidence that _Morphology_ both activated my
taste buds and offered me plenty of food for thought.
It was a nourishing and satisfying banquet. This book
has unquestionably pushed the study of Chinese
morphology ahead, and I look forward to more like it.
(1) Though curiously P cites one adverb, _ya1 ge[n]r1_
'completely, not in the least' as an example more than
once [p. 222, 261]; also, Chapter 5 examines polysyllabic
(2) In my view, _cai3_ is in fact the structural or
syntactic head of this compound, giving a breakdown
of something like 'colors (made) of clouds'. But users
of Chinese may vary in their analysis of formations
(3) In the case of verbs like _dong4yuan2_
[move + personnel] 'to mobilize', the N object has been
reanalyzed as a verb element, and the verb can take a
further object; but this in my opinion does not make
_dong4_ the head of construction. In its original
incarnation, _dong4yuan2_ (similar formations likewise)
is a verb + noun object, and thus does not have a head. It
is a fossilized expression in its reanalysis as a verb; and
therefore it does not make sense to say that the first
element is now the head. The whole has become verbal;
_yuan2_ is denominalized and now part of the verbal
whole, i.e. it is no longer a true object or noun. This may
be in conflict with Packard's principle (p. 27) that 'the
identity of a gestalt word as a verb never results in the
_right_-hand member being reanalyzed as a verb.'
(4) Thanks to Steve Schaufele for his online 'lecturettes'.
Chung, Karen Steffen. "Verb + Noun Function-Describing Compounds" in
_Bulletin of the College of Liberal Arts_,
National Taiwan University, No. 41, June 1994, pp. 181-221.
Chung, Karen Steffen. _Chinese Complex Verbs_.
Dissertation. Leiden University (in progress).
Schaufele, Steven. Lecturettes #8, 9, 10 : "Intro To X-Bar
Theory", "'Universal Base', Functional Heads", "The Demise Of Ps-Rules"
Karen Steffen Chung teaches English and linguistics
in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
of National Taiwan University in Taipei.