Review of Space in Languages of China
|EDITOR: Xu, Dan
TITLE: Space in Languages of China
SUBTITLE: Cross-linguistic, Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives
Irina Borozdina, Department of Foreign Languages, Kursk State University, Russia
This book presents a collection of papers on the study of various linguistic and
cognitive aspects of the category of space in different languages of China,
including Chinese Sign Language. In spite of the fact that there have appeared a
considerable number of works devoted to the investigation of the representation
of space in a variety of languages (see e.g. Saint-Dizier 2006, Talmy 2000,
Taylor 1993, Vandeloise 1994) the ways the category of space is represented in
languages of China have not been paid so much attention as yet. The authors of
the volume focus their attention on lexical, semantic and syntactic ways of
representing spatial relations. In addition, the researchers investigate the
lexico-grammatical status of spatial terms and the process of grammaticalization
they have undergone. To achieve the ultimate goals the authors combine
cross-linguistic, synchronic and diachronic approaches.
The volume begins with Dan Xu's Introduction ''How Chinese structures space''
where the author discusses the status and some typological aspects of Modern
Chinese and the ten major dialects of China from synchronic and diachronic
perspectives. Dan Xu summarizes the main topics discussed in the book:
grammaticalization, typology of motion events, adpositions and the influence of
phonological changes on language syntax. From the author's point of view
grammaticalization is an important topic for discussion as most Chinese
prepositions have originated from verbs through the process of
grammaticalization. As far as typology of motion events is concerned Xu proposes
(Xu 2006) that Chinese has undergone a typological change from a 'Verb-framed
language' to a 'Satellite-framed language' (see e.g. Talmy 2000), though some
Chinese motion verbs do not match the S-language pattern. Due to the fact that a
pure word order ('Verb + Object' or 'Object + Verb') is difficult to find in
Chinese the term 'adposition' is used in reference to prepositions,
postpositions and other localizers. Xu also states that syntactic choices of the
way to represent space in Chinese are often triggered by phonological changes
Section A ''Space: A Cross-linguistic perspective'' begins with an article
''Chinese localizers: Diachrony and some typological considerations'' by Hilary
Chappell and Alain Peyraube. The authors focus their attention on the study of
the morphological structure, syntactic position and semantic features of Chinese
localizers, which are a special category of words expressing the relative
position of objects. The paper presents a detailed analysis of the evolution of
localizers from Archaic to Modern Chinese, combined with a cross-linguistic
analysis of localizers in some other Sinitic languages. One of the conclusions
of the authors is that localizers create a system of spatial representation in
Chinese which is different from those in the Indo-European Languages.
Danqing Liu's article ''Syntax of Space across Chinese Dialects: Conspiring and
Competing Principles and Factors'' deals with universality and diversity of
spatial impressions across major Chinese dialects (Mandarin, Wu dialects and
Cantonese) in the framework of typology. As the author states, to mark spatial
roles Chinese relies on syntactic means, namely, word order and function words
or semi-grammaticalized words. The author arrives at a conclusion that the main
factors dominating the syntactic behavior of spatial roles in Chinese dialects
are the Relator Principle which governs the use of the postposition, the
Principle of Economy which causes the omission of the preposition, prosodic
syntax, the degree of grammaticalization, and word order harmony. The analysis
shows that the role and importance of the factors vary with dialects.
Christine Lamarre's research ''The linguistic categorization of deictic direction
in Chinese with reference to Japanese'' is devoted to a cross-linguistic analysis
of deictic motion in the two typologically different languages. Traditionally
Modern Chinese is regarded as a Satellite-framed language while Japanese is a
Verb-framed language (see Talmy 2000). The most fruitful results of the author's
analysis are as follows: the way a language encodes deictic paths cannot be
totally predicted by the way it encodes nondeictic paths, though the encoding of
deictic motion is not totally free of the typological features of the language.
Another interesting assumption of the author is that from the typological point
of view Chinese should be treated as a language exhibiting split encoding of
The article ''The locative words in the Waxiang dialect spoken in Guzhang, Hunan''
by Yunji Wu is aimed at contributing to the study of spatial frames of reference
and the way space is conceptualized and structured in the Waxiang dialect. The
author is interested in the research of the language representation of such
spatial notions as 'east', 'west', 'south', 'north', 'top', 'bottom', 'inside',
'outside', 'front', 'back', 'left', 'right' and the expression of distance. The
researcher discovers an interesting fact about the frames of reference in the
Waxiang dialect: as the Waxiang-speaking communities are located in the
mountainous areas 'mountains' and 'rivers' are used as references in referring
to directions and locations. The comparative analysis carried out in the paper
shows that the locative words in the Waxiang dialect are more complex than in
Mandarin or the Xiang dialect group. Yunji Wu shows that the Waxiang dialect has
a peculiar system of demonstrative pronouns and several words to express 'up'
In the paper ''From locative to object markers: the parallel development of two
postpositions in Bai'' Jingqi Fu and Lin Xu point out how different locative
meanings can develop into dative and accusative markers. The authors show that
there are two postpositions in the Bai language which are attached to nouns or
noun phrases and which can have either the locative meanings of 'on X' vs.
'around X' or can be used as object markers denoting direct and indirect object,
respectively. From the authors' point of view the roles of direct and indirect
object in a sentence are connected with the spatial notions of contact vs.
absence of it. The data from other Tibeto-Burman languages are used in the
comparative analysis of the process of grammaticalization of locatives into
In his article Shun-chiu Yau analyzes the role of the visual space in the
development of sign languages. The aim of the paper is to demonstrate how sign
languages use their spatial, manual and bodily features for the syntactic
development. Much attention is also given to the study of the change of the word
order in some sign languages. The author also suggests that gestures once played
a crucial role in the emergence of human languages and therefore the study of
sign languages can contribute to general linguistics.
Section B ''Space in Synchronic and diachronic Chinese'' begins with Dan Xu's
article ''Asymmetry in the expression of space in Chinese – the Chinese language
meets typology''. The author's attention is drawn to the fact that some Chinese
motion verbs do not fit either into Modern Chinese typology of a
satellite-framed language or Old Chinese typology of a verb-framed language.
Thus, she investigates such motion verbs as 'come' and 'go' and some space terms
on semantic and syntactic levels. The results of the study show that these
lexical items present asymmetry on both the levels. As the author points out
asymmetry in language reflects the asymmetry of human perception of space. In
addition, she studies the way time can be presented in Chinese. The research is
carried out in the cognitive paradigm.
Chaofen Sun's paper ''Two conditions and grammaticalization of the Chinese
locative'' focuses on the distributional properties and typological features of
the Chinese locative particles in reference to some cross-linguistic studies.
The author argues that Chinese locative particles are neither postpositions nor
circumpositions such as those in Amharic and proposes two conditions which
account for the distribution of the Chinese locative constructions: a
selectional condition and a multi-syllabic constraint. The author gives some
historical evidence to show the process of grammaticalization of the locative
The article ''Origin and evolution of the locative term _hòu_ 'back' in Chinese''
by Fuxiang Wu is devoted to the study of the source model and semantic changes
of the locative term _hòu_ from a cross-linguistic perspective. The author is
particularly interested in the semantic and morphosyntactic changes that took
place when _hòu_ occupied the head position in genitive structures. Fuxiang Wu
comes to the conclusion that the source model of _hòu_ is motional process and
it does not completely correspond to the major source models of BACK-REGION
grams (body part terms, environmental landmarks and relational part terms (see
e.g. Svorou 1986, 1993)). Nevertheless, the author argues that motional process
as a type of source model can be found in some other languages. Another
important conclusion of the author is that the most fundamental mechanism in the
formation of various meanings of _hòu_ is metonymy.
The final article of the volume is ''The inessive structure in Archaic and
Medieval Chinese: an evolutionary study of inessive demonstrative uses from
Archaic to Early Modern Chinese'' by Qingzhi Zhu and Wenjie Chen. The authors'
ultimate goal is to investigate the development of the Chinese demonstrative
pronouns. As the authors state, in the archaic and medieval periods the inessive
demonstrative pronouns shared the same form with the personal pronouns and were
monosyllabic. Qingzhi Zhu and Wenjie Chen point out that Chinese have developed
a system of specified inessive demonstrative pronouns which are all disyllabic.
The authors make a successful attempt to find out the reasons of this change and
The volume is a successful scientific venture which has been anticipated by many
researchers who are interested in the study of various properties of the
language representation of the category of space in Chinese as well as in other
languages. That is the reason why its value cannot be overestimated. Chinese
spatial prepositions, postpositions and localizers are very specific classes of
words and have various semantic and syntactic characteristics which make them
different from locative terms in other languages and which still remain a
mystery in many ways. Until recently Chinese spatial terms had been undeservedly
neglected by the researchers or had been given only a formal linguistic account
in which they were viewed as a functional class of words, deprived of any
lexical meaning. Fortunately enough the situation has been changing gradually
and the articles presented in the volume show what a complex and at the same
time fruitful object of study Chinese prepositions, postpositions, localizers
and other spatial terms can be.
It is worth mentioning that the volume unites researchers working within
different linguistic branches, paradigms and theories, such as etymology,
semantics, syntax, language typology, sign language, cognitive linguistics,
psycholinguistics, and some others. This gives an opportunity to study Chinese
spatial terms from all the possible angles, thus, giving a vivid and adequate
picture of their semantics and syntax, highlighting the most important
achievements and showing the aspects which need further investigation.
What is more, the language material presented in the book is taken from
different languages and dialects spoken on the territory of China, even those
belonging to different language families. Such a variety of involved language
material helps to solve some of the problems connected with the cross-linguistic
study of spatial terms. It is also a considerable contribution to the field of
language teaching and translation, as it is common knowledge that in different
languages the systems of prepositions and postpositions sometimes perform
considerably different functions and semantic features. In addition, the
cross-linguistic approach can help to solve a more general task of studying the
way the representatives of different linguo-cultural communities structure space
and other extra linguistic domains. Another item which is worth mentioning is
that one of the papers of the volume is devoted to the influence of the visual
space on the sign language development.
Another advantage of some of the articles is that the authors resort to the help
of the native speakers of the studied languages and a wide range of linguistic
statistical data. Linguistics has already become a scientific branch which aims
at receiving the most adequate and precise results, which is why experimental
research and native speakers' responses are widely used to avoid any ambiguity
caused by the researcher's intuition.
Of special interest are the results of the study of the syntax of Chinese
spatial terms. In this volume syntactic features of prepositions and
postpositions are studied with the help of different up-to-date approaches, the
results of which can be used for the study of the same groups of words in other
One more interesting aspect of the reviewed volume is that it combines works in
which locative terms are studied both in isolation and in phrases. It gives an
opportunity to see how locative terms interact with other lexical items, what
their individual semantic features are, and how context changes their semantic
It is important to mention that the book has not raised any strong criticism in
the mind of the reviewer, for the works presented in it express pluralistic
ideas on the problems of semantics and syntax of spatial terms, and all of them
show the achievement of the definite goals stated by the authors. As has already
been stated, the volume provides the reader with a deep theoretical insight into
the study of the language representation of space and it will foster further
research based on the linguistic data from other languages. Moreover, the
variety of empirical data presented in the book constitutes a rich source of
information for the scholars from various branches of linguistics and other
studies related to it. The fact that the authors of the articles present an
English translation of all the Chinese examples considerably widens the circle
of readers of the book.
Saint-Dizier, P. (2006). _Syntax and semantics of Prepositions_. Toulouse,
France: Springer, CNRS.
Svorou, S. (1986). On the evolution paths of locative constructions. _Berkeley
Linguistics Society_, 12, 515-527.
Svorou, S. (1993). _The grammar of space_. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Talmy, L. (2000). How Language Structures Space. _Toward a Cognitive Semantics_.
Vol. 1, 177-254. MIT Press.
Taylor, J.R. (1993). Prepositions: Patterns of Polysemization and Strategies of
Disambiguation. In C. Zelinsky-Wibbelt (ed.), _Natural Language Processing: The
Semantics of Prepositions_. Vol.3. The Hague: Mouton de Gruyter. Pp. 151-175.
Vandeloise, C. (1994). Methodology and Analyses of the Preposition. _Cognitive
Linguistics_, 5 -2, pp. 157-184.
Xu, Dan. (2006). _Typological changes in Chinese syntax_. Oxford University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Irina Borozdina is an Associate Professor teaching English and Linguistics at
the Department of Foreign Languages at Kursk State University, Russia. Her main
research interests include cognitive semantics, psycholinguistics, intercultural
communication and the relationship between language and cognition. In her thesis
''Semantics of Spatial Prepositions'' she studied the meanings of English and
Russian prepositions denoting space relations within the cognitive paradigm. Her
article ''Conceptualization of Space and the Semantics of English and Russian
Prepositions'' was published in _Text Processing and Cognitive technologies_
which is the paper collection of proceedings of the VII International Conference
''Cognitive Modeling in Linguistics''. Her most recent work is an article ''Forms
and meaning of language presentation of spatial relations'' has been published in
the journal _Issues of Cognitive Linguistics_.