City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
0 like 0 dislike
189 views
How does Chinese express definite and indefinite nouns?
asked Mar 4, 2020 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by admin (25,240 points) | 189 views

1 Answer

0 like 0 dislike

Unlike English, which expresses the definiteness and indefiniteness of nouns by adding definite and indefinite articles (thea/an, and some), Chinese expresses the (in)definiteness of nouns by word order. The preverbal subject and object are interpreted as definite, whereas the postverbal subject and object are interpreted as indefinite:

1a.    rén   lái   le

        The person(s) has/have come.

1b.    lái   – le rén   le

        come – LE person LE

        Some person(s)has/have come.

2a.    wǒ zài mǎi shū  le

         I  ZAI buy book le

         I am buying a book.

2b.    wǒ bǎ shūmǎi le

         I BA book buy LE

         I bought the book.

2c.    shū   wǒ mǎi le

        book I buy LE

        The book, I bought it (topic/contrastive).

2d.    wǒ shū  mǎi le

         I bought the book(contrastive). (Li & Thompson, 1989, pp. 20-21) 

In (1a), the preverbal subject is definite, whereas in (1b), the postverbal subject is indefinite. Similarly, shūin (2a) is a postverbal indefinite object, whereas it is a preverbal definite object in (2b-d).

References

Li, C. N., &Thompson, S. A. (1989). Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar. Univ of California Press.

answered Mar 4, 2020 by admin (25,240 points)

1,274 questions

1,567 answers

13 comments

7,735 users

1,274 questions
1,567 answers
13 comments
7,735 users