City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
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asked Apr 21 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by Ariel (31,850 points) | 15 views

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The Principle of Temporal Sequence (PTS) was proposed by linguist Tai in 1985. The principle states: “The relative word order between syntactic units is determined by the temporal order of the states they represent in the conceptual world.”

The PTS operates in the serial verb construction, which consists of a serial verbs [V1 + V2 +…]. Each verb may be considered as describing an event, and the events named by the verbs are related in some way as parts of an overall event or states of affairs. The serial verbs are ordered in terms of the chronological order of the events in the physical world:


Jìnqù mǎi piào.

(Go in to buy tickets.)


Mǎi piào jìnqù.

(Buy tickets before going in, or buy tickets to go in.)

In each of the above serial verb constructions, the two verbs depict two related events that are chronologically sequenced, a reversal of the order of the verbs results in a change of meaning. The two events named by V1 and V2 cannot be reversed if they involve a temporal sequence, as in:

2a. 上楼睡觉

shàng lóu shuì jiào.

(Go upstairs to sleep)

2b. *睡觉上楼

*shuì jiào shàng lóu.

3a. 拿着扇子跳舞

Ná zhe shànzi tiào wǔ .

(dance with fans in one’s hands)

3b. *跳舞拿着扇子

*Tiào wǔ ná zhe shànzi.

In (3a), ‘V1 + 着’denotes a stative event of holding fans in one’s hands, it expresses the manner in which the event of dancing (named by V2) is performed. The state of holding fans starts with and accompanies the action of dancing during the whole process. Hence, temporally it precedes and continues with the action of dancing. The sequence of the two verbs cannot be reversed.

[1] Loar, J. K. (2011). Chinese syntactic grammar: functional and conceptual principles. New York: Peter Lang.
answered Apr 21 by Ariel (31,850 points)

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