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Title: The Syntax and Semantics of Chinese Equatives
Authors: Chen, Yi-Hsun Eason
Keywords: Sino-Tibetan Languages
Chinese Languages
Issue Date: 2010
Publisher: National Chiao Tung University
Abstract: This thesis explores both syntax and semantics of yiyang ’same’, buyiyang ‘different’ and three types of comparative constructions (i.e. scalar (un-)equatives, similarity comparatives and identity comparatives) headed by them in Mandarin. In the first place, we present several pieces of evidence (e.g. ellipsis, the scope of question particle and structural ambiguity) for a necessary distinction between two different uses of yiyang and buyiyang, namely, degree adverbs and adjectival predicates. Secondly, we argue that the comparative marker gen/ he, which introduces the comparative standard, is prepositional in these three types of comparatives. This in turn suggests an adjunction analysis for the structural configuration of comparatives (e.g. Liu 1996, Kennedy 1999, Lin 2009). Regarding scalar (un-)equatives, we propose that they are both syntactically and semantically headed by degree adverbs yiyang and buyiyang. Seen in this way, yiyang and buyiyang resemble the English degree morpheme more in two respects. First, all of them are the head of comparatives. Second, all of them are degree morphemes introducing an ordering relation between individuals with respect to possessing some gradable property. Turning to similarity comparatives, we first propose that yiyang and buyiyang, resembling their counterparts same and different in English, are lexically ambiguous between similarity and identity readings in Mandarin. Regarding the syntax of similarity predicates, we propose that yiyang (but not buyiyang) syntactically combines with a clause which is complement in nature, since the extraction of elements from it does not render island effects (i.e. CED effects in the sense of Huang 1982). Further, this complement clause functionally serves as a further specification of the dimension of similarity. For another, by relating dimensions of similarity to degrees of similarity, we propose that the complement clause can be considered as measure phrases in similarity comparatives. Seen in this light, dubbed with Alrenga’s (2007) insight that comparative adjectives such as different and like determine positive and negative intervals of a scale (i.e. similarity), we suggest that the syntactic asymmetry between yiyang and buyiyang can not be attributed to the idiosyncrasy of lexicons; rather, it is better considered as a reflex of the deeper syntax-semantics of measure phrases and the interval nature of buyiyang. Concerning the semantics of similarity predicates, we argue against Alrenga ’s (2007) treatment of similarity same and different as a pair of total/partial adjectives; rather, we suggest that the two pairs of adjectives same/ different and yiyang/ buyiyang be better considered as the adjectives with totally closed scale (e.g. full/ empty, open/ closed), rather than the adjectives with partially closed scale (e.g. dry/ wet, straight/ bent) (see Rotstein & Winter 2004, Kennedy & McNally 2005). Finally, we present a syntax-semantics analysis of similarity yiyang/ buyiyang and similarity comparatives in Mandarin. In particular, we propose that similarity comparatives are both syntactically and semantically headed by similarity predicates yiyang and buyiyang. As for identity comparatives, we point out two potential problems for Alrenga’s (2007) semantic analysis of identity same and different. The first problem is an empirical one, concerning the combination of same and proportion modifiers such as almost and completely. The second one is theoretical in nature, concerning the postulation of an abstract measure phrase. Given these considerations, I propose a syntax-semantics analysis of identity yiyang/ buyiyang and identity comparatives in Mandarin. Specifically, following Alrenga’s conception that individual identity itself constitutes as the dimension of comparison in identity comparatives, I propose that identity predicates yiyang and buyiyang not only syntactically and semantically head identity comparatives, but also determine positive and negative intervals of a scale (i.e. cardinality). Importantly, our analysis requires yiyang to return a positive interval on the relevant scale, and this move leaves room for how proportion adverbs semantically contribute to identity comparatives. Obviously, our analysis thus fares better than Alrenga’s with respect to the empirical problem. However, with respect to the theoretical problem, our analysis suffers the same pain as Alrenga’s does, since both analyses have to postulate an abstract measure phrase and the truth value of a comparative sentence relies on the combination of such degree morphemes. Last but not the least, our analysis of similarity and identity comparatives sheds light on the nature of those comparative-like gradable adjectives such as yiyang and buyiyang. More specifically, yiyang and buyiyang not only serve as the head of comparatives (i.e. similarity and identity), but also resemble gradable adjectives in determining an interval on the relevant scale (i.e. similarity and cardinality).
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