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Review of  Chinese Grammar

Reviewer: Rong Chen
Book Title: Chinese Grammar
Book Author: Hilary Chappell
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Issue Number: 15.3241

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Date: Sun, 14 Nov 2004 13:20:29 -0800
From: Rong Chen
Subject: Chinese Grammar: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives

EDITOR: Chappell, Hilary
TITLE: Chinese Grammar
SUBTITLE: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2003

Rong Chen, California State University, San Bernardino


An earlier version of this book was published in 2001, under the title Sinitic
Grammar, a collection of papers presented at the First International
Symposium on Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives on the Grammar of
Sinitic Languages (Melbourne, July 1996). Additional papers have been
included in the present volume.

Chappell's Chinese Grammar: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives (CG)
is divided into five parts. The only paper in Part I, by Chappell herself,
provides a brief history of Chinese dialects as well as an overview of the
upcoming chapters in the volume. The remaining parts contain three
papers each.

Part II of CG focuses on typological and comparative grammar. In "The
development of locative markers in the Shangsha Xiang Dialect," Wu uses
spoken data to demonstrate that the four locative markers in the dialect
have different relationships with the verbs they combine with, which she
sees as a result of the different paths of grammaticalization the markers
have gone through or the different stages they are at in the
grammaticalization process. The second paper of Part II, "A typology of
evidential markers in Sinitic Languages," by Chappell, analyzes verb enclitics
in several dialects such as Mandarin, Shanghainese, Cantonese, Taiwanese,
and Fuzhou. These markers have been traditionally viewed as aspectual
markers. Chappell, however, argues convincingly that they be best seen as
evidential markers "which conflate the immediate (personally observed or
experienced) and inferential kinds, but not the reported or hearsay kinds."
The last paper of Part II, by Lamarre, investigates verb complement
constructions in several Chinese dialects. The author first classifies Sinitic
verb complements into three categories: extent, manner, and potential. She
then provides a typology of Chinese dialects based on this three-way
classification. Dialects such as Mandarin form the first type, using the same
marker for all three complement categories. Dialects such as Jin and Wu
have decided to mark potential differently from extent and manner, thus
forming Type II. Dialects such as Yue, on the other hand, marks extent
differently from manner and potential. Lastly, there are also dialects, mostly
in the Min group, that mark every category differently from any other.

In Part III of CG, Historical and Diachronic Grammar, Sagart ("Vestiges of
Archaic Chinese Derivational Affixes in Modern Chinese Dialects")
documents the appearance of the prefix *k- and the infix *-r- in Jin, Wu,
Yue and some dialects of Mandarin. Further, the author provides evidence
that these two morphemes are continuations of "processes of Archaic
Chinese derivational morphology reconstructible independently on internal
grounds." Diamouri ("Markers of prediction in Shang bone inscriptions")
studies five such markers, proposing that these markers are not, as they
may seem, adverbs. Peyraube, in the last paper of Part III ("On the Modal
Auxiliaries of volition in Classical Chinese"), investigates four modal
auxiliaries of volition and discovers an undeniable relationship between the
use of these auxiliaries and polarity. Furthermore, diachronic evidence
presented in the paper confirms that the historical changes of the
auxiliaries of volition "have been the same as the ones stated for the modal
auxiliaries of possibility: (1) from non-epistemic to epistemic; (2) from weak
subjectivity to strong subjectivity."

Part IV of the book is devoted to three aspects of Cantonese grammar. The
interrogative structure is dealt with by Cheung's "The interrogative
Construction: (Re)constructing early Cantonese grammar," in which the
author examines the use of yes/no questions in twelve sets of language
teaching materials complied between 1828 and 1936 and identifies six
types of A-not-A questions. He then argues that all of these types are
structurally derived from the basic pattern of juxtaposing the positive and
negative verb phrases. The causative/resultative is investigated by Yue,
in "The verb complement construction in historical perspective with special
reference to Cantonese." The author presents evidence that pivotal
construction of the form V1 + NP +V2, where the NP is both the object of
the first verb and the subject of the second, formed transitional
construction out which the Verb-Complement structure emerged as early as
the Han period (206 BCE-220 CE). The relative clause is the object of study
by Mathews and Yip. The writers looks at the parallel use of two relative
clause structures, one that uses classifiers as markers of relative clauses
and the other makes use of the possessive as the relative marker, much like
the case in Mandarin Chinese. These two structures are distinguished in
terms of register: the classifier is used in colloquial speech while the latter,
in former Cantonese.

Part V of CG, "Southern Min Grammar," comprises three studies on the
grammar and morphosyntax of Southern Min, especially the Taiwanese
variety. The first study is on duplication, by Tsao, who compares verbal and
adjective duplication between Mandarin and Southern Min. Verbal
duplication expresses the core meaning of tentativeness in both languages
but can indicate "short duration" in the former and "rapid completion" in the
latter. With regards to adjective duplication, Tsao finds that Mandarin uses
the AABB form to express vividness while Southern Min, in addition to the
AABB form, uses the ABAB form to express tentativeness. The second study,
by Lien, investigates the morphological change in Taiwanese Southern Min
in terms of stratificational distinctions between colloquial (native) and
literary (alien) forms of the language. Adopting the theory of lexical
diffusion, the author argues that the bidirectional lexical diffusion between
the two strata has led to completing morphological changes. The third
study of Part V, by Li, focuses on divergent paths of development of
prepositions in Taiwanese Min and in Mandarin. The author lists ninety-
three forms of prepositions in Mandarin and forty-nine forms in Taiwanese.
Of these forty-nine Taiwanese prepositions, thirty-five are cognates with
Mandarin and belong to the literary stratum, acquired through education.
This leaves only fourteen of them to be used in the colloquial speech.
Diachronically, Li demonstrates that the inventories of prepositions for
Archaic and Medieval Chinese have largely undergone attrition, with new
prepositions arising after each period at the rate of three times the quantity
of their predecessors.


These twelve studies in the reviewed volume (excluding the editor's
introduction) are all solid work, tackling different aspects of Sinitic grammar
from a variety of perspectives. The book, as a whole, is a must for students
of Sinitic languages, for reasons that are manifold but chiefly the following.

First, the book is the first that combines diachronic with synchronic
approaches in the study of Sinitic languages. The shift from diachrony to
synchrony in the beginning of the 20th Century has resulted in a
regrettable neglect of the former for about a century in linguistic research,
and it is about time for students to pay attention to the history of
languages, to heed the apparently obvious wisdom that any synchronic
state of language is a result of its previous states. Therefore, a synchronic
study is much better informed if it is supported by diachronical evidence or,
if not, has to be able to account for diachronic evidence once it is revealed.
Chappell's CG abundantly demonstrates this assumption, thus making a
significant contribution to linguistics in general and to Sinitic linguistics in

The second strength of the book has to do with its coverage. Diachronically,
it spans from the Shang period (with breaks, of course) to the present;
synchronically, it offers analysis of different structures in a great many
languages in the Sinitic group and many dialects within several languages
in that group. Both of these are significant. There have been no lack of
diachronic studies of Chinese grammar, for instance, but there has been no
volume that I know that houses so many studies in one place.
Synchronically, CG's emphasis on other languages than Mandarin is a
hugely important shift from decades-long concentration by Chinese
linguists on the artificially designated standard language. As diverse as any
other language family, the Sinitic group deserves our devotion to its many
languages and dialects, and I am happy that Chappell and her colleagues
have given us a jump-start.

Thirdly, CG has all the traits of a well-written, well-edited book. The
amount of information in it is admirable; its documentation is careful; its
index is accurate; and it hardly has any typographical errors.


Rong Chen is Professor of Linguistics and Chair of English at California
State University, San Bernardino. He has published an ESL reading textbook,
twenty articles in various areas of linguistics and, recently, a book in the
Cognitive Linguistics Research series entitled "English Inversion: A Ground-
before-Figure Construction" (2003, Mouton de Gruyter). His research
interests are pragmatics, cognitive linguistics, English linguistics, and
Chinese linguistics.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0199272131
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 426
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