Review of Dramatized Discourse
|Date: Tue, 21 Feb 2006 09:45:29 -0500 (EST)
From: Picus Ding
Subject: Dramatized Discourse: The Mandarin Chinese ba-
AUTHOR: Jing-Schmidt, Zhuo
TITLE: Dramatized Discourse
SUBTITLE: The Mandarin Chinese ba-construction
SERIES: Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics 56
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
Picus Sizhi Ding, Macao Polytechnic Institute
The monograph by Jing-Schmidt is based on her doctoral dissertation
about the ba-construction of Mandarin. The body of the book consists
of ten chapters, embracing both synchronic and diachronic studies of
Chapter one, Introduction (pp. 1-11), presents a general introduction
to the orientation of the book. Emphasizing communication as the
goal of language, this study has adopted a data-driven approach,
using ba sentences found in textual discourse rather than
decontextualized introspective sentences. To avoid the deceptive
practice of viewing a syntactic structure in isolation from discourse (p.
9), examples of the ba-construction are rendered in chunk with
sentences that form a discourse context. The chunk is given in
Chinese characters, accompanied with free translation into English.
The focus part is underscored in the bilingual chunk, and the ba-
construction is then repeated with a three-lined presentation, including
Chinese characters, pinyin (but without tone markers), and morpheme-
Chapter two, Database (pp. 13-15), provides a sketch of the sources
of data. The database for synchronic study includes three pieces of
Lao She's works from the 1940s and 1950s, namely the first 16
chapters of a novel, corpus S (which is the predominant source of
data), and two modern plays, corpus W and corpus C. In addition,
there is a non-literary work, corpus M, from the first eight chapters of
a university textbook. The database for diachronic study consists
largely of corpus Y from the Yuan dynasty, corpus J from the Ming
dynasty, and corpus H from the Qing dynasty. Much of the chapter
gives justification for using written literary works as primary data for
Chapter three, The syntax of the ba-construction: overview (pp. 17-
66), describes the syntactic structure of the ba-construction in terms
of compositional properties. Two entirely different syntactic
relationships are forwarded: (A) ba-Obj-VP and (b) ba-Subj-VP
(section 3.1). The former has six variants, and the latter has two.
These are: ba-Obj-V-Complement, ba-Obj-V-Aspect_marker, ba-Obj-
Adverb-V, ba-Obj-V-Or(-V2) [Or=recipient Object], ba-Obj-V-Op
[Op=partitive Object], and ba-Obj-V-Ot [Ot=transformation Object]; Ø-
ba-Subj-VP [Ø=null sentential subject] and T-ba-Subj-VP [T=sentential
topic]. The chapter then discusses concurrence of the ba-
construction with mood (namely indicative, imperative, interrogative,
and subjunctive in section 3.2) and modality (3.3), the use of the
construction in three kinds of sentences: negative (3.4), passive (3.5),
and causative (3.6). Other issues covered are using the ba-
construction as subordinate (3.7) and word order of Mandarin (3.8).
Chapter four, Previous approaches (pp. 67-112), presents a critical
review of some previous studies on the ba-construction. Examining L.
Wang's examples in his treatment of ba sentences as the disposal
construction, Jing-Schmidt criticizes Wang's generalization short of
explanatory power and his examples lacking in communicative reality.
In discussion of Li and Thompson's analysis within the disposal
framework, Jing-Schmidt shows that grammaticality of ba sentences
can be achieved with additional modification on the VP, which,
however, contributes no disposal effect (cf. example (3) below). Jing-
Schmidt points out that Chao failed to properly define the notion
of ''pretransitive verbal construction'' in his study of the ba-
construction and overlooked the attitudinal aspect of the construction.
Detailed review of the concept of transitivity is undertaken as
regards ''cardinal transitivity'', ''prototypical transitivity'',
and ''prototypical action and major biactant construction''. The
causativity approach to the ba-construction is briefly addressed. Jing-
Schmidt considers the common problem shared in these studies to be
the treatment of the ba-construction at the propositional level with the
singular focus on sentence grammar based on isolated data (p. 107).
Chapter five, The hypothesis of discourse dramaticity (pp. 113-124),
advances a discourse-based approach to the ba-construction under
two language-external controlling principles involving communicative
goals and human psychology. In the system of discourse dramaticity,
the ba-construction is regarded to feature high dramaticity, whereas
non-ba sentences have low dramaticity (p. 114). Dramaticity is
construed in terms of cognitive salience, on the one hand, and
subjectivity and emotionality on the other.
Chapter six, Cognitive salience as discourse dramaticity (pp. 125-
210), explicates in great detail cognitive salience observed in the ba-
construction at the clause and trans-clause levels. Intra-clausal
factors concerning the number of participants, verbal dynamism,
verbal modification, salience of event and participants, and information
structure are investigated on 304 ba clauses from the corpus S. An
equal number of non-ba-clauses are taken from the same source from
the start of the novel for statistic comparison to the ba-construction
samples. Inter-clausal properties of the ba-construction are also
statistically studied as regards foregrounding and textual linking. A
number of predictions about these factors and properties are made
and supported by the data: high discourse dramaticity of the ba-
construction implies that events expressed by the construction tend to
involve more than one participant (p. 126), tend to use dynamic verbs
(p. 135), tend to attract more verbal modifiers (p. 139), particularly
those signifying change of state (p. 140), tend to have an accessible
subject (p. 168), and tend to have a specific ba-NP (p. 169).
Cognitive salience is predicted to be marked more likely by
constructions sensitive to the foreground-background distinction (p.
194), and a ba-clause tends to be foregrounded by cohesion markers
Chapter seven, Subjectivity and emotionality as discourse dramaticity
(pp. 211-240), expounds subjectivity and emotionality embedded in
the ba-construction. Conceptual metaphors, intensifiers, mood and
modality are addressed with the same statistic mode as in Chapter
six. Two more predictions are forwarded: Conceptual metaphors are
more likely to appear in ba clauses (p. 214), and intensifiers are
employed more in ba clauses (p. 219). Finally, the chapter discusses
different trends in using ba clauses in two different genres: corpus S
(304 tokens) and corpus M (133 tokens).
Chapter eight, An interim conclusion (pp. 241-244), serves as a
transition from the synchronic examination of the ba-construction to
the diachronic study of the construction.
Chapter nine, The pragmatization of the ba-construction (pp. 245-
295), hypothesizes the ba-construction to have arisen adaptively
under pragmatic forces rather than general grammaticalization. The
origin of the construction is taken to be the serial verb construction ba-
O-V-L [L=locative NP] instead of V1-O1-V2-O2 [V1=ba, O1=O2] (p.
249). Diachronic data suggest that reanalysis of the serial verb
construction occurred in the Tang dynasty (618—960 A.D.) (p. 255).
Rapid urbanization taking place in the Song dynasty (960—1279)
fostered the shift of narrative styles from archaic to colloquial (p. 263),
which, in turn, accelerated subjectification of the ba-construction (p.
295). Emergence of the intransitive type of ba-construction
(structurally ba-Subj-VP) is observed by the 14th century. Based on
the four literary works in the diachronic database, the regulation and
systemization of the ba-construction is discussed with a number of
Chapter ten, Final remarks (pp. 297-300), closes the empirical study
with remarks on the limitation of the present monograph.
This monograph has filled a chasm in the discourse aspect of the
Mandarin ba-construction, and presents a great step forward to
understanding this unusual construction. Readers interested in the
ba-construction or Mandarin grammar in general will enjoy the findings
about the most-studied construction of Mandarin presented in this
Notwithstanding its high quality, the ambitious and radical approach
adopted in the book has undermined this research work to some
extent. The inclusion of a diachronic study of the ba-construction in
an otherwise synchronic analysis is not necessary. Since Jing-
Schmidt is not concerned with the grammatical status of ba, how the
construction has evolved to its modern form and functions has little
bearing on the dramaticity hypothesis. More importantly, the
diachronic development of the ba-construction, cast in the far-
reaching record of written texts over millennia, deserves a separate in-
depth study in its own right. The diachronic chapter, taking one sixth
of the monograph’s size, can only address the history of the ba-
construction cursorily. The claimed contradiction, in the light of
pragmatization of the ba-construction, to the general belief that
linguistic objectification ensues from cultural progress and literary (p.
295) needs to be substantiated and corroborated. More worthy
efforts could have been directed towards statistic studies of other
corpora in the database of modern texts.
Jing-Schmidt declares on several occasions in the book that the ba-
construction signals ‘a meaning of discourse dramatization, a meaning
whose effects in communication are best seen at the pragmatic level
of discourse rather than the semantic level, taken strictly, let alone the
syntactic level’ (p. 291). Under this radical approach, the pragmatic
domain has become the primary, if not exclusive, field for studying the
ba-construction. The focus of diachronic investigation has placed on
the construction as a whole rather than the head of the construction—
ba, for it is inadequate to treat ba as a grammaticalized object marker
or case marker (pp. 291-292). What has been overlooked is the
possibility that grammaticalization can shift the meaning of ba from
lexical to grammatical, namely to express resultative (as discussed in
Ding 2001). If syntactic studies without taking pragmatics into
consideration are problematic, as criticized in the book, the inverted
approach can only be equally inadequate.
The aptness of the term 'discourse dramaticity' and derived terms
such as 'dramatization' is questionable. Although the byzantine
nature of the ba-construction must be acknowledged, the intrinsic
meaning/function of the construction does not warrant a new rubric
term. Under the vague notion of 'discourse dramaticity', other
constructions, such as the passive in (1) and the causative in (2),
would also score well on the grounds of either cognitive salience or
Simiao gei xiongxiong da-huo shao-le zhengzheng san tian san ye.
temple Pas flaming big-fire burn-Pf entire 3 day 3 night
'The temple was burned by the fierce fire for three entire days and
nights.' [Pas=Passive marker; Pf=Perfective marker]
Wo kan zhe ge hao xiaoxi yiding hui rang haizi que-yao-qi-lai.
1sg look this Cls good news certainly will Caus child bird-jump-Ich
'In my view this good news will certainly let the child dance like a
happy bird.' [Cls=Classifier; Caus=Causative; Ich=Inchoative marker]
This term is informative only in its exclusive focus on pragmatic aspect
of the ba-construction, for Jing-Schmidt has refuted disposal as the
central meaning of the ba-construction. Nonetheless, the disposal
meaning can be regarded as Resultative on Object and putative
disposal sentences such as (3) Resultative on Subject (cf. Ding 1993):
Ta ba xiao mao ai de yao si.
3sg BA small cat love Ext want die
'S/he loves the kitten so much that s/he wants to die.' [Ext=Extensive
The disposal meaning can be readily translated to the linguistic notion
of resultative, as defined by Nedjalkov & Jaxontov (1988), with further
distinction on the affected entity. It is possible to speak of a well-
defined resultative meaning of the ba-construction, which is yet
compatible to the notion of high dramaticity.
Jing-Schmidt's treatment on the scope of the ba-construction is also
remarkable. The starting point of the construction is set to be marked
by ba, which means that the ba-construction is syntactically taken as a
phrase. No wonder it is difficult to construe the meaning of the ba-
construction at the sentence level.
It is curious that subjectivity and emotionality is rendered as a unit in
explaining discourse dramaticity, as emotionality by itself is not
discussed and often left behind when exploring subjectivity in the ba-
construction. The empirical data suggest that subjectivity and
emotionality as a strategy in creating discourse dramaticity does not
possess the same degree of forces as cognitive salience, although
this is not pointed out in the book. Because of the weaker forces, only
two predictions about the ba-construction are available as far as
subjectivity is concerned. Furthermore, a percentage as low as 16%
is reported for the use of modal verbs in ba-clauses in the sample,
which is presented with a conspicuous absence of statistic comparison
to non-ba-clauses, however.
On account of the use of databases, Jing-Schmidt's study is empirical,
and therefore, it is open to verification by future works. However, the
statistic significance of this empirical study remains to be proven, as
statistical principles do not seem to have been in place with regard to
sample selection and sample size. This is particularly a potential
problem in the diachronic study, where a piece of work from a certain
dynasty is regarded as representative of that dynasty.
The empirical data from corpus S have provided not only vivid
discourse contexts of the ba-construction, but also complex syntactic
structures of sentences, which may involve causativity, passivization,
complementization, relative clauses, and clause compounding. The
only commonly used syntactic combination lacking in the corpus
(based on the cited examples, which do not represent the full range of
304 ba-clauses) is the occurrence of the gei-passive in the ba-
Da-huo ba simiao gei shao-hui-le.
big-fire BA temple Pas burn-destroy-Pf
'The big fire has burned up the temple.'
The interesting combination of the ba-construction with other
constructions may pose challenges to syntacticians who have
analyzed merely the structure of these constructions in their canonical
form in isolation.
There are also a few problems in organization. A veil has been drawn
over the grammatical status of ba until ba is referred to as an auxiliary
verb in the diachronic chapter. Similarly, what is subsumed
under 'non-ba-clause' in the statistic comparison in the two main
chapters (six and seven) becomes clear only in chapter eight. 'Non-
ba-clause' includes the four word orders SOV, OSV, SVO, and VS. It
is unclear whether special constructions such as the passive and the
causative are also counted towards the first 304 non-ba-clauses.
Instead of the general comparison between ba-clauses and non-ba-
clauses, a more beneficial methodology would be comparison of the
ba-construction against other specific constructions in Mandarin.
Between the ba-construction at the high level and canonical
sentences at the low level, a refined scale of discourse dramaticity
may emerge for other frequently used constructions.
A few typos are found in Chinese examples and English texts. The
former involve misprint of homophonous characters such as zuo 'do' in
lieu of zuo 'sit' (p. 3). Although they do not hinder the reading, their
corrections will be welcome when the book is reprinted or published
as a paperback.
Ding, Sizhi (1993) The Ba Resultative Construction: A Comprehensive
Study of Mandarin Ba Sentences. MA thesis, Simon Fraser University.
Ding, Picus S. (2001) Semantic change vs. categorical change: A
study of the development of Mandarin BA. Journal of Chinese
Linguistics 29.1: 102-128.
Nedjalkov, P. Vladimir & Sergej Je. Jaxontov (1988) The typology of
resultative construction. In P. Nedjalkov (ed.) Typology of Resultative
Constructions. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Picus Sizhi Ding is an associate professor at Macao Polytechnic
Institute. Taking a holistic approach to linguistic research, he is
interested in languages of China, particularly those less-studied and
under-studied in the Sino-Tibetan family.