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Review of  Mandarin Compound Verbs

Reviewer: Wen-chao Li
Book Title: Mandarin Compound Verbs
Book Author: Karen Steffen Chung
Publisher: Crane Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Issue Number: 19.2391

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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

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

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 _hū_ and
_zhū_ as possible constituents in the construction of Mandarin compounds (e.g.,
_chūhū_ 'to go beyond'; _sùzhū_ '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., _shuōmíng_ 'to explain';
_fùchū_ '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.

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.

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
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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
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Huang, Shuanfan. 1998. ''Chinese as a Headless Language in Compounding
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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).
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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

Ye, Feisheng & Xu, Tongqiang. 1997. _Outline of Linguistics_ (Yuyanxue Gangyao).
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Zhu, Yan. 2004. _A Study of Semantically-based Compound Formation in Chinese_
(Hanyu Fuheci Yuyi Goucifa Yanjiu). Beijing: Peking University Press.

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.