LINGUIST List 23.5311

Mon Dec 17 2012

Review: Historical Linguistics: Xing (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 17-Dec-2012
From: Ksenia Antonyan <>
Subject: Newest Trends in the Study of Grammaticalization and Lexicalization in Chinese
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EDITOR: Xing, Janet ZhiqunTITLE: Newest Trends in the Study of Grammaticalization and Lexicalization inChineseSERIES TITLE: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 236PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2012

Ksenia V. Antonyan, Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences(Moscow)


This volume presents an overview of recent developments in the study ofgrammaticalization and lexicalization in Chinese. It contains nine articlesdevoted to the development of different words and grammatical constructions inChinese, and is divided into two parts. Part I (articles 1-7) centersprimarily on issues of grammaticalization, and Part II (articles 8-9) focuseson lexicalization. The authors combine different methods and approaches tothe analysis of the material. The main conceptual frameworks areGrammaticalization Theory and Construction Grammar. The contributors arescholars from mainland China and Taiwan. (One of the articles is writtentogether with a prominent French scholar, Alain Peyraube.)

The scope of themes is very broad. Among the nine articles, five focus on theissue of a certain grammatical category, such as the emergence of the definitearticle, the development of modal verbs of volition, the emergence of theclassifier class, the disappearance of the repeater, and the process oflexicalization. The remaining four articles are case studies of words whichhave undergone the process of grammaticalization: the sentence-final particle‘ye’, the directional verb ‘lai’, the degree adverb ‘hen’, and the verb ofgiving ‘gei’.

The period of time taken into account is broad, too; it covers more than 3000years.

The volume begins with an introduction by the editor, Janet Zhiqun Xing. Shesummarizes the main topics discussed in the book and gives an overview of thetheoretical approaches represented in it. She observes that in the last threedecades the study of grammaticalization and lexicalization has generatedtremendous interest among Western researchers who study Indo-European andAfrican languages (e.g., Heine & Reh 1984, Heine et al. 1991, Hopper &Traugott 1993, and many other works), whereas Chinese has hardly been studiedby Western researchers with regard to these two phenomena. She points out thatChinese is typologically different from these languages and exhibits a richand uninterrupted body of historical data (a recorded history of more than3000 years). So, Chinese has a clear advantage over Indo-European and Africanlanguages when it comes to the study of grammaticalization.

She also points out the main peculiarities of grammaticalization in Chinese.Chinese is a language with serial verb constructions where verbs are notmarked for tense, number, etc. So, verbs may become grammaticalized intofunction verbs more easily than they can in languages with agreement marking.(The reviewer would like to add that this is true also for the nouns: thenouns, having no inflection markers, can also be turned into function wordsmore easily.)

Another notable peculiarity of grammaticalization in Chinese is the so-calledaccretion of meanings. According to Western researchers, semantic change ingrammaticalization develops along the following cline: A > A, B > B. InChinese the cline very often looks like A > A,B > A,B,C, where all of thethree meanings (A, B, C) may co-exist.

1. The article by Qianrui Chen, “The development of the Chinese aspectualsentence-final marker ‘ye’,” shows that ‘ye’ has had two aspectual functions:static and dynamic. There are two different views on their relationship:whether the latter represents an extension of the former or whether there isany relationship between the two at all. Chen argues that dynamic ‘ye’ isderived from static ‘ye’, consistent with an established pattern of thegrammaticalization of perfect markers in Chinese and other languages.

2. Mei Fang, in the article “The emergence of a definite article in BeijingMandarin: The evolution of the proximal demonstrative ‘zhe’,” considers thediscourse and pragmatic functions of the proximal demonstrative ‘zhe’ and thedistal demonstrative ‘na’ in Contemporary Beijing Mandarin. The results ofthis study show that the definite article was derived from the demonstrative‘zhe’ through its recognitional use, a process that is accompanied by theemergence of the use of ‘yi’ ‘one’ as an indefinite article. She argues thatsuch a functional shift from a demonstrative to a definite article is a clearcase of grammaticalization. As a result, a new grammatical category,definiteness, has emerged in Contemporary Beijing Mandarin, even though thispattern, as she points out, is not yet observed in written Mandarin Chinese.

3. The article “The grammaticalization of the directional verb ‘lai’: Aconstruction grammar approach” by Cheng-hui Liu investigates the varioussyntagmatic functions of the directional verb ‘lai’. Liu concludes that theconstructionist view seems to be the only available perspective to explain whythe verb ‘lai’ has remained vital over an extraordinarily long period of time,without being obviously influenced by any changes.

4. Mei-chun Liu and Chun Chang, in the article “The degree-evaluativeconstruction: Grammaticalization in constructionalization,” explore one typeof attributive predication in Mandarin Chinese in which a degree modifier(‘hen’ ‘very’) is normally required to precede an attributive predicate.Through discussion of the interaction between grammaticalization andconstructionalization, the authors demonstrate that the adverbial element‘hen’ triggers the constructional interpretation and becomes grammaticalizedinto a constructional operator. The authors say that their study demonstrateshow grammaticalization can go hand in hand with constructionalization inshaping the grammar of Mandarin Chinese.

5. In “The semantic historical development of modal verbs of volition inChinese,” Alain Peyraube and Ming Li investigate different categories ofvolitional verbs in Chinese written texts from Archaic Chinese to ModernChinese via the intermediate stage of Medieval Chinese. They argue that modalsthat originally expressed the meaning of ‘intention’ are the only ones thatcan become grammaticalized into future markers. It is less likely, if notimpossible, that the other two types (‘want’ and ‘hope’) will evolve in thisway because of their unique semantic and syntactic properties. They point outthree types of semantic change in the development of the modal verbs ofvolition in Chinese: (1) Intention > Future, (2) Weak volition > StrongVolition, (3) Physical domain > Mental domain.

6. Janet Zhiqun Xing, the editor of the volume, in her article “Semanticchange in the grammaticalization of classifiers in Mandarin Chinese” looks atthe emergence, development, and disappearance of classifiers in MandarinChinese by investigating the semantic changes involved in thegrammaticalization of 16 of the most commonly used Modern Chinese numeralclassifiers. She provides historical evidence showing that three mechanisms --metaphor, metonymy, and semantic reanalysis (following Eckardt 2006) -- playan important role in the emergence and development of classifier meaning whilein the disappearance of classifiers, loss of semantic function and highfrequency have been shown to be major contributing factors. The articlecontains a number of tables containing empirical data, which make thepresentation vivid and convincing. It also has an Appendix which presentsexamples illustrating the historical development of all the 16 numeralclassifiers considered in the article.

7. Cheng Zhang, in the article “The repeater in Chinese and other languages,”provides diachronic and synchronic evidence to refute the view that therepeater is the earliest numeral classifier in Sino-Tibetan languages. Sheargues that since the original meaning of the construction where the repeateris used is not compatible with that of the classifier, it is unlikely that thenumeral classifier is derived from the repeater. From a semantic perspective,both diachronic and synchronic evidence shows that most numeral classifierswere not derived from repeaters.

8. Xiufang Dong’s paper, “Lexicalization in the history of the Chineselanguage,” discusses various issues related to the characteristics andprocesses of lexicalization in Chinese. First she demonstrates different typesof lexicalization observed in the history of the Chinese language:lexicalization of lexical phrases, of functional phrases, and of syntacticallyunrelated phrases. Then she discusses the degree of lexicalization,constraints on lexicalization, the relation between syntactic change andlexicalization, and the interaction between Chinese typology andlexicalization. She points out that lexicalization, compared withgrammaticalization, might have more idiosyncratic and language-specificfeatures that are not, as yet, well understood by scholars. The relationshipbetween the characteristics of lexicalization and language typology is aninteresting topic that requires further investigation.

9. Feng-fu Tsao, in the article “Argument structure change, reanalysis andlexicalization: Grammaticalization of transitive verbs into ditransitive verbsin Chinese, Japanese and English,” investigates the change of argumentstructure, reanalysis and lexicalization of ‘gei’ ‘give’ from a transitiveverb to a ditransitive verb in Chinese. In order for this to happen, a verbhas to go through a process of grammaticalization or lexicalization such asserial-verb-construction condensation or adjunct incorporation. Tsao compares‘gei’’s development with its counterparts in Japanese and English and findsthat its Japanese counterpart also undergoes the serial-verb constructioncondensation while its English counterpart undergoes adjunct incorporation. Healso formulates an important constraint on ditransitivization: this processinvolves only three naturally defined verb classes, namely, verbs of movement,creation and acquisition.


The articles collected in this volume demonstrate the application oftypological findings to the analysis of Chinese material. The object of studyis not only Mandarin Chinese itself (i.e. Putonghua), but also its varieties,e.g. Beijing Mandarin (chapters 2 and 6). The book is interesting andstimulating, and enriches both the study of the Chinese language and itshistory, and the development of linguistic theory. It is full of newhypotheses and ideas, and all of the studies are based on vast empirical dataincluding language corpora and results of fieldwork.

It is significant that the volume brings together articles ongrammaticalization and lexicalization, for these processes are deeplyinterrelated (see Lehmann 1989, 1995).

The editor writes in the Introduction that the reason why Chinese has beenlittle studied with regard to grammaticalization and lexicalization “isprobably twofold: Western researchers are not familiar with the Chineselanguage and their Chinese counterparts are not familiar with the theoreticalframework developed in the West” (p. 3). However, I believe that the editorhas considerably underestimated both Western and Chinese scholars’achievements. Not only are Chinese scholars quite familiar withgrammaticalization theory, they have already made a serious contribution toit. They have organized a series of conferences on grammaticalization in theChinese language and published five collections of articles on the basis ofthese conferences (e.g., see Wu & Zhang (eds.) 2011). Another internationalconference, devoted to grammaticalization and lexicalization in Chinese, wasthe 4th Kent Ridge International Roundtable Conference on Chinese Linguistics(Singapore, 2008), presenting the papers of scholars from China, USA(including the editor of this volume), Japan, Russia (including the reviewer),and Singapore. Important publications on the topic in mainland China are ShiYuzhi (2002, 2003), Shi Yuzhi & Li Na (Charles N. Li) (2004), Wu Fuxiang(2005) and (2006). As for Western publications in English, the editor has notmentioned such important monographs as Shi Yuzhi (2002) and Xiu-zhi Zoe Wu(2004). There are also two Russian monographs discussing, among other issues,problems of grammaticalization and lexicalization in Chinese: Tan Aoshuang(2002) and Antonyan (2003) (a short presentation in English is found inAntonian 1998).

Xing writes that in Chinese the cline of grammaticalization is often A > A,B >A,B,C, where all the three meanings (A, B, C) may co-exist. In the opinion ofthe reviewer, this is due not only to the isolating nature of the Chineselanguage structure, as the editor puts it, but also to the long co-existenceof the two literary languages of China: ‘wenyan’ and ‘baihua’.

Remarks on specific articles follow (the numbers refer to the article numbersas the editor gives them in the Introduction).

1. Qianrui Chen: the reviewer notes that the particle ‘ye’ is a discourseparticle and it would be easier to understand its function if the author gavea larger context of its uses: one sentence is not always enough.

4. Mei-chun Liu and Chun Chang demonstrate the interaction of two theoreticalframeworks: Grammaticalization Theory and Construction Grammar (see Goldberg2005, 2006). I would suggest that ‘grammaticalization’ and‘constructionalization’ refer to one and the same phenomenon, just viewed fromdifferent angles. I also remain convinced that it is the poly-functionality ofChinese words, especially in colloquial speech, that enables the usage ofdifferent parts of speech in the X slot in the construction {‘hen’ + X}, andnot the qualities of the degree evaluative construction itself.

The Russian scholar A. A. Dragunov was one of the first to write on thedesemanticization of ‘hen’ and its transformation into a formal element, asort of copula (Dragunov 1952, pp. 209-213; see also the Chinese translationLong 1958, and the German translation, Dragunov 1960).

6. It seems to the reviewer that it is not theoretically correct to speak ofthe three mechanisms of grammaticalization -- metaphor, metonymy and semanticreanalysis. I would argue that these three notions belong to differentspheres: metaphor (metaphorization, metaphoricalization) and metonymy(metonymization) are cognitive mechanisms/processes, while reanalysis (whethersyntactic or semantic) is a linguistic notion that refers to the formalconsequences of these processes.

7. The position of Cheng Zhang concerning the status of the repeater is notquite clear to the reviewer. That is, is it a part of speech or a syntacticfunction of a noun? The definition of the repeater (“a type of nominalmodifier which is formally identical to the noun that it modifies,” p. 215)implies that it is a syntactic function, whereas the uses of this notion inthe article imply that it is a part of speech. If it is a syntactic functionand any noun can be used in this function, then how can we pose a questionwhether numeral classifiers were or were not derived from repeaters?

Some technical remarks: In the Table of Contents, as well as in the main textof the book, the chapters are not numbered. Meanwhile in the Introduction theeditor refers to them by their numbers. The book would be much moreuser-friendly if the chapters were numbered.

It would be useful for the readers if the book provided information on thecontributors’ institutions. It is only in Chapter 5 (p. 149) that thisinformation is provided.

The volume contains a Subject index, but, unfortunately, some very importantterms are missing; for example, the term ‘constructionalization’, one of thekey terms for this volume.

The book contains a considerable number of typos. This concerns primarily thepinyin transcription of Chinese phrases, and tone signs (e.g., ‘yuǚwén’instead of ‘yǚwén’, p. 21, ‘ Hànyû shî gâo’ instead of ‘Hànyŭ shĭ găo’, p.302). One also comes across extra symbols and technical guidelines for theauthors (p. 85, line 16 from below, p. 152, line 2 from above) that shouldhave been omitted in the final version of the text. There are also typos inproper names (‘Echardt’ instead of ‘Eckardt’, p. 1, ‘Kutiva’ instead of‘Kuteva’, p. 3) and diagrams (Diagram 1, p. 109), as well as in thetranslation of Chinese examples (‘The child is can be taught’ instead of ‘Thechild can be taught’, p. 25).

The editor does not explain why she uses the brackets in the scheme A > A, B >(B) (p. 3). Heine et al. (1991, p. 74) do not use the brackets and put thescheme as follows: A > A, B > B.

The title of the ancient Chinese dictionary “Shuo wen jie zi” is translated as“Definition and explanation of words and characters” (p. 176). The translationis not precise. The authors of “Chinese Lexicography” (Yong & Peng 2008)translate it as “An Explanatory Dictionary of Chinese Characters” (p. 435).Actually, the title means “Explaining the simple characters (‘wen’) andanalyzing the composite ones (‘zi’)”; the notion of word is not used in thetitle.

Nonetheless, all of the articles are important contributions to the corpus ofwork on diachronic change in Chinese. They expand the understanding of Westernscholars interested in the history of the Chinese language. The results ofthe studies are useful for cross-linguistic research in various domains, suchas aspectual typology, typology of poly-predicative constructions, modalverbs, nominal classifiers, etc. They will also be very useful for teachingthe Chinese language and its theory and history, since it contains interestingdata on new tendencies in language use not yet reflected in textbooks andnormative grammars.


Antonian, Ksenia. 1998. Resultative verb compounds in Mandarin Chinese:Grammaticalization and lexicalization. Cahiers de Linguistique - AsieOrientale. Vol. 27(2). Paris. Pp. 255-265.

Antonyan, Ksenia. 2003. Morphologiya rezultativnych konstrukcij v kitayskomyazyke (Morphology of Resultative Constructions in Chinese). Moscow: Muravei(in Russian, English summary).

Dragunov, Aleksandr A. 1952. Issledovaniya po grammatike sovremennogokitaiskogo yazyka (Research on the Grammar of Contemporary Chinese). Moscow:Leningrad.

Dragunov, Aleksandr A. 1960. Untersuchungen zur Grammatik der modernenchinesischen Sprache. (German translation of Dragunov 1952.) Berlin:Akademie-Verlag (Ostasiatische Forschungen : Sonderreihe Monographien.)

Eckardt, R. 2006. Meaning change in grammaticalization: An enquiry intosemantic reanalysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goldberg, A. E. 2005. Constructions: A construction grammar approach toargument structure. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Goldberg, A. E. 2006. Constructions at work: The nature of generalization inlanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Heine B., Claudi, U., Huennemeyer, F. 1991. Grammaticalization: A conceptualframework. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Heine, B. & Reh, M. 1984. Grammaticalization and reanalysis in Africanlanguages. Hamburg.

Hopper, P. & Traugott, E. 1993. Grammaticalization. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Lehmann, C. 1989. Grammatikalisierung und Lexikalisierung. Zeitschrift fuerPhonetik, Sprachwissen¬schaft und Kommunikationsforshung. Vol. 42(1).

Lehmann, C. 1995. Thoughts on Grammaticalization. LINCOM Studies inTheoretical Linguistics 01. Muenchen, Newcastle: LINCOM Europa.

Long, Guofu (Dragunov, Aleksandr A). 1958. Xiandai Hanyu yufa yanjiu. (Chinesetranslation of Dragunov 1952.) Beijing: Kexue chubanshe.

Shi, Yuzhi 2002. The establishment of Modern Chinese Grammar. The formation ofthe resultative construction and its effects. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: JohnBenjamins Publishing Company.

Shi, Yuzhi. 2003. Xiandai Hanyu yufa xitong de jianli (The establishment ofModern Chinese Grammar). Beijing: Beijing yuyan daxue chubanshe.

Shi, Yuzhi & Li, Na. 2004. Hanyu yufahua de lishi. Xingtai jufa fazhan dedongyin he jizhi (A History of Grammaticalization in Chinese. Motivations andmechanisms of evolution of Chinese morpho-syntax). Beijing: Beijing Daxuechubanshe.

Tan, Aoshuang. 2002. Problemy skrytoi grammatiki (Problems of hidden grammar).Moscow: Yazyki slavianskoi kultury.

Wu, Fuxiang (ed.). 2005. Hanyu yufahua yanjiu (Research on grammaticalizationin Chinese). Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan.

Wu, Fuxiang. 2006. Yufahua yu Hanyu lishi yufa yanjiu (Grammaticalization andresearch on historical grammar of Chinese). Hefei: Anhui jiaoyu chubanshe.

Wu, Fuxiang & Zhang, Yisheng (eds.). 2011. Yufahua yu yufa yanjiu(Grammaticalization and research on grammar), Vol. 5. Beijing: Shangwuyinshuguan.

Wu, Xiu-Zhi Zoe. 2004. Grammaticalization and Language Change in Chinese. Aformal view. London and New York: Routledge Curzon.

Yong, Heming & Peng, Jing. 2008. Chinese Lexicography. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.


Ksenia V. Antonyan (Antonian) is senior research fellow at the Department ofEast and Southeast Asian Languages at the Institute of Linguistics, RussianAcademy of Sciences (Moscow). Her field of research is Modern Chinese grammar,verb compounds and the phenomena of grammaticalization and lexicalization. Shepublished a book, “Morphology of Resultative Constructions in Chinese”(Moscow: Muravei, 2003; in Russian, English summary). She has taught threecourses: Chinese, Theory of Chinese Grammar and History of Chinese Grammar atRussian State University for Humanities (Moscow).

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