City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
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asked Apr 26 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by Ariel (28,250 points) | 13 views

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张三打扫了那座大白石头房子。

Zhāng Sān dǎsǎo le nà zuò dà bái shítou fángzi.

(Zhang San cleaned the big white stone house.)

From the standpoint of literal meaning, we know that the sentence describes an event of cleaning the house, in which two participants are involved: Zhang San and the house. This meaning is associated with Chinese grammar which structures the sentence, so we know that Z. S. carried out the event and acted on the house. We know this because of the form of the sentence in Chinese, not because of the speaker’s intention or anything connected to the context. The structure of the sentence is such that the subject, which frequently (but not always) correlates with the Agent or doer, generally precedes the verb, and the object, which encodes the receiver of an action, follows the verb. Therefore, the semantic relations or roles existing between the two participants and the head verb naming the event are Agent and Patient. Now let’s consider the complex NP: (那座)大白石头房子。‘(nà zuò) dà bái shítou fángzi’ ((that) big white stone house). In this expression, the adjectives 大‘dà’ (big) and 白‘bái’ (white), and the noun modifier 石头‘shítou’ (stone) express the semantic properties of the size, color of the house and the material the house was built of, these are the inherent properties of the entity referred to by the head noun 房子‘fángzi’. Hence the semantic roles that these modifiers bear to the head noun 房子‘fángzi’ can be identified as ‘size, color and material’. The semantic relations are stable, constant, and determinable out of context. From the example we see that the literal meaning of the sentence and the semantic roles are uncontroversial and not open to dispute, they are decided by the semantic properties of the words or linguistic expressions, not by context or use, or the speaker’s intention or implication. Hence they are simple and stable.

[1] Loar, J. K. (2011). Chinese syntactic grammar: functional and conceptual principles. New York: Peter Lang.
answered Apr 26 by Ariel (28,250 points)

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