Dissertation > Language, writing > Linguistics > Grammar > Syntax

A Contrastive Study of English and Chinese Middle Constructions

Author Chen
Tutor ZhangFaKe
School Jinan University
Course Foreign Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
Keywords English middle construction Chinese middle construction Minimalist Inquiries
CLC H043
Type Master's thesis
Year 2008
Downloads 143
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The middle construction, which is considered as an independent construction, involves a complex interlayer among syntax, semantics and lexicon. In other words, it is a unitary entity of these three aspects. As a special syntactic and semantic construction, the middle construction has been one of the most heatedly discussed topics in the linguistic field during the past quarter of a century and is studied extensively in a number of languages.The essential property of the middle construction is that it is active in form but passive in meaning. The constructional meaning of the middle construction can be understood in this way: the subject possesses some attribute or state represented through the predicate’s manner of action. Besides, it has some other properties. Syntactically, its superficial subject is raised from the internal argument position and it needs an adverbial adjunct; and semantically, it possesses such properties as non-eventivity, agentivity and modality. A common consensus about these basic properties has been reached in the linguistic field. Both in English and Chinese, the middle construction should possess all these properties because“middle”is a universal and cross-linguistic language phenomenon. English and Chinese middle constructions are syntactic reflections of semantic properties of“middle”in the two languages separately.However, concerning the middle formation, no agreement has so far been reached. Scholars have made an extensive research and a penetrating discussion on constraints and the derivational process of the middle construction. As to the constraints the middle formation is subject to, it is generally believed that there are mainly three elements: the aspectual restrictions of verbs, the affectedness constraint and the responsibility of subjects. Specifically, the aspectual restrictions of verbs in the English middle construction are less obvious than those in the Chinese counterpart; while the affectedness constraint in the Chinese middle construction is not so evident as that in the English counterpart. This reflects some diversity of the two languages.With regard to the derivational process of the middle construction, there are mainly two approaches: the lexical approach and the syntactic approach. Theorists such as Fagan (1988, 1992), Ackema and Schoorlemmer (1993, 1995) are the proponents of the former. The lexical analysis assumes that middle constructions are derived lexically with the external argument deleted and internal argument raised pre-syntactically (i.e. in the lexicon) and there is no position for such an implicit agent in the syntactic representation. The middle construction does not involve NP-movement. It has the internal argument realized as subject only. On the other side, theorists such as Keyser and Roeper (1984), Carrier and Randall (1992), Stroik (1992, 1995, 1999), Hoestra and Roberts (1993) are the representatives of the syntactic approach, which holds that middles are derived syntactically with an NP-movement involved and the external argument is syntactically active although it is covert in form. They contend that the middles are derived syntactically with NP-movement involved. The foci of the debate between the two approaches are mainly on the status of the non-overt external argument of middle verbs and the involvement of NP-movement. Based on a painstaking and extensive investigation of the middle construction of English and Chinese, the present thesis agrees with the syntactic approach because the lexical approach’s opinion that the external argument is deleted and does not appear on the syntactic level fails to find empirical evidence and support. Aiming at descriptive adequacy and explanatory adequacy, the present thesis has made a theoretical as well as an empirical study of a rather peculiar construction --- the middle construction of English and Chinese. Empirically, it has observed all those prominent properties of middles in English and Chinese, as well as the constraints on their formation and the derivational process. The brief comparison between the middles in English and Chinese shows that the middle constructions share similar properties and behave very much alike in the two languages. Theoretically, this helps to make a unified account of this cross-linguistic phenomenon. Applying Chomsky’s most up-to-date theory of Minimalist Inquiries to the analysis, the thesis has solved the problem of the derivation of the middle construction fairly well and given a rather convincing and unitary account of some controversial issues on the peculiar features of middles, thus opening a new path to the study of English and Chinese middle constructions.

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