LINGUIST List 19.2391

Thu Jul 31 2008

Review: Morphology: Chung (2006)

Editor for this issue: Randall Eggert <>

        1.    Wen-chao Li, Mandarin Compound Verbs

Message 1: Mandarin Compound Verbs
Date: 31-Jul-2008
From: Wen-chao Li <>
Subject: Mandarin Compound Verbs
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AUTHOR: Chung, Karen Steffen TITLE: Mandarin Compound Verbs SERIES: Taiwan Journal of Linguistics: Book Series in Chinese Linguistics PUBLISHER: Crane Publishing Company YEAR: 2006

Chris Wen-Chao Li, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, San Francisco State University

SUMMARY Chinese morphology is a field in which the traditions of native and western scholarship have yet to converge. Unlike phonology or syntax, in which the methods and models of contemporary western linguistics have to an extent encompassed and supplanted traditional scholarship, present-day literature on Chinese morphology can be said to be split into two camps: scholarship in China remains largely set in the descriptive tradition, impervious to theoretical trends and universals found in the world's languages (some scholars, e.g., Xu 2004; Chao 1976, would go so far as to argue that the ''word'' is a western construct that is not applicable to the Chinese language), while publications in the West apply current theory, but only over a small scope, addressing very specific issues (Packard 2000 is a notable exception). This methodological split is evident in Chinese-published textbooks on general linguistics, in which the morphology chapter typically either adopts the Chinese descriptive approach (e.g., Ye & Xu 1997; Qian 1995), or uses English language examples altogether, with little or no mention of corresponding phenomena in Chinese (e.g., Hu 2001; Peng 2003; Tse 1998; Chung 2003). Chung's Mandarin Compound Verbs is a serious attempt at bridging the two approaches, bringing the Chinese descriptive tradition in line with modern linguistic scholarship, albeit focusing on the compound verb.

Chung's choice of lexical compounds as the subject of inquiry reflects the view of much recent scholarship, which argues for morphological compounding as the main word formation process in Chinese, in contrast with the greater variety of affixation mechanisms found in the languages of the world. The decision to treat verb compounds alone, as opposed to the entire inventory of lexical compounds, as is the case in comparable works (e.g., Packard 2000; Chen 1994; Zhu 2004), allows the book to examine a greater variety of data and probe Chinese verb compounding phenomena in greater depth, providing scientific and falsifiable explanations for the categories stipulated, while at the same time covering sufficient breadth to lay the groundwork for an overarching theory of Chinese compounds. The book is the first book-length English-language treatise on morphological compounding from a Chinese relational perspective, and is a must for linguists seeking to understand morphological analysis in the Chinese tradition.

The means by which the Chinese verb compound is analyzed in this volume is spelled out in the first chapter, which outlines a relational-modificational approach to morphology that is commonplace in the Chinese literature (c.f., Wu & Wang 1983; Ge 1985; Fu 1985), but less so in lexical analysis in the western tradition. In defining morphological constituents and constructs, much emphasis is placed on prosodic constraints (i.e., syllable count) and semantic-relational considerations, while structural criteria such as boundedness, transparency and productivity are played down. The result is an account of the verb compound built around a disyllabic template and a semantically and thematically-oriented definition of the morphological head. This is a framework in which the notion of ''compound'' includes prefixed and suffixed forms (i.e., complex or derived words in other schools of morphological analysis), where wordhood is determined by the separability of constituents, and categorization and analysis focuses on mostly modificational and hierarchical relations between constituent morphemes.

The remainder of the book is divided into five chapters, in which the author's main theses are found in Chapter 2 ''Subordinate Compound Verbs'', Chapter 3 ''Coordinate Compound Verbs'', and Chapter 4 ''Embedded Compound Verbs''. Note that the author's terminology differs somewhat from that of other writers on the subject. Chung's ''subordinate compound'' (Chapter 2), for example, includes what Bisetto & Scalise (2005) refer to as ''attributive compounds'', i.e., compounds with a modifier-head structure. On the other hand, Bisetto & Scalise's (2005) ''subordinate compound'', referring to compounds displaying a head-argument relation, correspond to Chung's ''embedded compound'' (Chapter 4), ''resultative compound'' (Chapter 5), and ''bleached verb object compound'' (Chapter 5).

In Chapter 2 ''Prefixed and other Subordinate Compound Verbs'', which treats the traditional modifier-head structure, the author expands the definition of ''prefix'' to include both bound and free adverbial morphemes, and groups prefixed verbs with their structurally-analogous cousin the subordinate verb compound (i.e., modifier-head structures).This departure from orthodox morphology is due partly to the difficulty of teasing apart Chinese free and bound morphemes (boundedness gradience) owing to logographic writing and the absence of morphophonemic alternation, and partly to a tradition of Chinese scholarship which seeks to define linguistic notions ''according to the unique characteristics of Chinese, so that we do not end up with a category whose members are used almost exclusively in translations from Western languages, or are analogous formations based on such'' (p. 34). The result is an interesting schema under which Mandarin Chinese, contrary to traditional wisdom, possesses a large number of verbal prefixes with varying levels of productivity, displaying a modifier-head structure neatly parallel to instrumental, manner, and background subordinate compounds. From a generative perspective, this tweaking of basic notions compromises comparability between morphological structures found in Chinese and in other known natural language, but viewed from a structuralist angle, the distributional symmetry thus achieved and its compatibility with nativist analyses make it a viable alternative to existing treatments of prefixation and modifier-head structures in Chinese (see Packard 2000 for an alternative analysis).

In Chapter 3 ''Coordinate Compound Verbs'', the author tackles the other major compound structure -- the coordinate compound, and brings under a common structural umbrella four distinct types of coordinate verb compounds, namely, (1) synonyms or near synonyms, (2) related actions (with no particular sequential order), (3) sequential actions (i.e., serial verbs), and (4) sound symbolic disyllabic compounds. In treating each of the four categories, the author goes into greater detail than traditional accounts, describing subtypes and making a strong case for intra-category homogeneity and intercategory distinctions. In discussing the first subtype, a number of original observations come to light. With regard to the origin and necessity of synonymous disyllabic compounds, Chung cites a difference in register between monosyllabic (informal) and disyllabic (formal) verb forms, shedding new light on the nature of disyllabic word forms, complementing prosodic studies by Feng (1998) and Duanmu (1999). The author also notes that when a compound consists of two near-synonyms, the more specific of the two precedes the more generic item, and that the latter (generic) item functions as the ''semantic head'' of the compound (though maintaining that all coordinate compounds are morphologically headless). Furthermore, she observes that individual morphemes tend to have a preference for either the initial or the final position, a preference which plays a key role in compound formation.

Chapter 4 deals with compounds in which the initial element serves as a marker of aspect, passivization, or causation -- what is sometimes referred to as 'serial verb' type subordinate compounds. Here, the relationship between the two constituent morphemes is syntactic rather than semantic, as is the case in subordinate and coordinate compounds. The discussions in this chapter break new ground, being the first attempt in the literature to explore the issue of syntactic serial verb constructions in the framework of verb compounding. Steffen Chung's original observations in this short chapter add to the growing literature on morphology-syntax parallels and the morphology-syntax interface in Chinese.

Chapter 5 is a catch-all section treating remaining verb compounding processes not covered in chapters two to four. These include instances of conversion (noun-noun, adjective-noun, adjective-adjective), bleaching (verb-object), and processes involving the incorporation of particles, resultatives, and suffixes. Notably, the author refutes Huang's (1998:274) view that prepositions do not play a role in word formation, instead treating the classical particles _hu|_ and _zhu|_ [editors note: the "|" following the vowel represents a horizontal line above the vowel] as possible constituents in the construction of Mandarin compounds (e.g., _chu|hu|_ 'to go beyond'; _sùzhu|_ 'to resort to'), citing inseparability as motivation. Similarly, she argues that while most verb-resultative constructions are phrases and not words, ''there is a smaller number of inseparable resultative and directional compounds in Chinese'' (p. 193), e.g., _sho|míng_ 'to explain'; _fùchu|_ 'to give'; _shèjí_ 'to touch upon'. In Section 5.7, the author discusses one of the truly productive Chinese verb suffixes _huà_, noting that, as a translation from English that later assumed a life of its own, the suffix is unique in that it ''operates outside of the rules of the system'' (p. 203), and does not have to conform to the disyllabic constraint.

EVALUATION All in all, the present volume is an account of Chinese compound verb morphology that takes as its starting point modificational, hierarchical and syntactic relations between constituent morphemes, playing down key structural notions such as boundedness and productivity, eventually arriving at categories similar to those found in traditional Chinese classifications of lexical compounds. Though the author qualifies her study by stating that it is based on Mandarin used in Taiwan, in this reviewer's opinion the conclusions apply without exception to all varieties of Modern Standard Chinese.

In the illustration of key notions, the author makes frequent comparisons between Chinese and English, using carefully selected examples to illustrate similar structures and common processes, immensely useful for readers without an expert grasp of Chinese. The frequent recourse to English, however, is not without its shortcomings -- on occasion, instead of giving explicit definitions, the author presents parallel phenomena in English and requires the reader to infer (cf. pp. 12-13 transparency and opacity). The book is written in a ''chatty'' tone, covering main ideas and issues of contention, but not always in the most linear manner. In the discussion of 'subordination' in Chapter 2 ''Prefixed and Other Subordinate Compound Verbs'', for example, the author writes: ''We will at this point address the question of what exactly constitutes 'subordination''' (p. 35). This is followed by citations of quasi-problematic definitions by various authors, and an illustration of the phenomenon in English, and why it is problematic, but falls short of articulating an operational definition of ''subordination'' where one would expect it -- the definition in question is not absent from the book, just that the reader needs to return to Chapter 1 ''Laying the Groundwork'' (p. 28) to find it.

The author more than makes up for this small inconvenience, however, with her insights into the nature of Chinese compound formation, and the Chinese language as a whole, especially areas in which Chinese merits treatment and analysis different from that used for other languages of the world. Moreover, Chung's identification of contradictions in the definition of the morphological head (pp. 18-22), supported by data from Chinese, contributes to theory.

As a scholar trained in contemporary linguistic analysis and well-read in the Chinese linguistic and philological literature, Chung provides, for the first time, a thorough and extensive English-language account of verb classification in the Chinese tradition, and one that ties in well with western scholarship. The book, rich with examples of Chinese verb compounds and usage data drawn from corpora, would make a useful reference both for linguists seeking Chinese language data to illustrate specific morphological processes, and for scholars of Chinese language eager for a wider-reaching application of contemporary morphological theory to Modern Standard Chinese.

REFERENCES Bisetto, A., and Scalise, S. 2005. ''Classification of Compounds''. _Lingue e Linguaggio_ 2: 319-332.

Chao, Yuen Ren. 1976. ''Rhythm and Structure in Chinese Word Conception''. In _Aspects of Chinese Sociolinguistics: Essays by Yuen Ren Chao_, ed. Anwar S. Dil. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Chen, Guanglei. 1994. _On Chinese Word Formation_ (Hanyu Cifalun). Shanghai: Academia Press.

Chung, Raung-fu. 2003. _New Introduction to Linguistics_ (Zuixin Yuyanxue Gailun). Taipei: Crane Publishing Company.

Duanmu, San. 1999. ''Stress and the Development of Disyllabic Words in Chinese''. _Diachronica_ 16 (1): 1-35.

Feng, Shengli. 1998. ''Prosodic Structure and Compound Words in Classical Chinese''. In _New Approaches to Chinese Word Formation: Morphology, Phonology and the Lexicon in Modern and Ancient Chinese_, ed., Jerome L. Packard. Pp. 197-260. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Fu, Huaiqing. 1985. _Modern Chinese Lexicology_ (Xiandai Hanyu Cihui). Beijing: Peking University Press.

Ge, Benyi. 1985. _Studies in Chinese Lexicon_ (Hanyu Cihui Yanjiu). Jinan: Shandong Education Press.

Hu, Zhuanglin. 2001. _Linguistics: A Course Book_ (Yuyanxue Jiaocheng). Beijing: Peking University Press.

Huang, Shuanfan. 1998. ''Chinese as a Headless Language in Compounding Morphology''. In _New Approaches to Chinese Word Formation: Morphology, Phonology and the Lexicon in Modern and Ancient Chinese_, ed., Jerome L. Packard. Pp. 261-283. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Packard, Jerome L. 2000. _The Morphology of Chinese: A Linguistics and Cognitive Approach_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Peng, Xuanwei, ed. 2003. _An Introduction to Language: A New Course Book_ (Yuyanxue Daolun Xinbian). Beijing: Tsinghua University Press.

Qian, Nairong. 1995. _Chinese Linguistics_ (Hanyu Yuyanxue). Beijing: Beijing Language Institute Press.

Tse, Kwok-ping John. 1998. _Introduction to Linguistics_ (Yuyanxue Gailun). Taipei: Sanmin Book Company.

Wu, Zhankun & Wang, Qin. 1983. _Survey of Modern Chinese Lexicology_ (Xiandai Hanyu Cihui Gaiyao). Hohhot: Inner Mongolia Peoples Press.

Xu, Tongqiang. 2004. ''The 'Character' in Chinese Semantis and Syntax'' (Zi he Hanyu de Yuyi Jufa). In _Preliminary Studies in Chinese Research Methodology_ (Hanyu Yanjiu Fangfalun Chutan), Tongqiang Xu. Pp. 276-301.Beijing: Commercial Press.

Ye, Feisheng & Xu, Tongqiang. 1997. _Outline of Linguistics_ (Yuyanxue Gangyao). Beijing: Peking University Press.

Zhu, Yan. 2004. _A Study of Semantically-based Compound Formation in Chinese_ (Hanyu Fuheci Yuyi Goucifa Yanjiu). Beijing: Peking University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Chris Wen-Chao Li is Associate Professor of Chinese Linguistics at San Francisco State University. He received his doctorate from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, where his work focused on Chinese phonology and Mandarin sound change. His current research interests include language change, language contact, neologisms, and translation theory.