City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
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asked Jun 20 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by Ariel (34,470 points) | 20 views

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There are two frames of reference: one is inherent to the reference object and the other is inherent to the viewer. Each frame of reference projects outward, that is, from the face, front, or the central point of the viewer or the reference object. For instance:

1a. 房子前边有几棵树。

Fángzi qiánbian yǒu jǐ kē shù.

(There are few trees in front of the house.)

1b. 前边的房子是爷爷的家。

Qiánbian de fángzi shì yéye de jiā.

(The house in front is my grandpa’s home.)

1c. 球在箱子右边。

Qiú zài xiāngzi yòubian.

(The ball is to the right of the box.)

In the case of (1a), the frame of reference is inherent to the house. ‘fángzi qiánbian’ (the front of the house) is conventionally understood as the façade of the house where there is the main entrance and most probably windows. Since the frame of reference is the house, the spatial relationship is independent of the viewer’s vantage point, so the value expressed by the spatial relation ‘qiánbian’ is constant. In the situation of (1b) the sentence is appropriate only when the viewer is facing the house, or when the viewpoint is projecting outward from the viewer’s face. Please note the order of the NP ‘qiánbian de fángzi’, in which the position word ‘qiánbian’ is, in fact, the abbreviated form of ‘wǒmen/wǒ qiánbian’ (in front of us/me), the position word functions as the modifier of the NP ‘fángzi’ (house). Hence, in terms of the Chinese grammar rule ‘Modifier-Beforemodified’, the position word followed by the attributive marker ‘de’ goes before the NP ‘fángzi’. (1c) allows two interpretations, depending on the frame of reference that is taken. In one situation the viewer is facing the box, that is, projecting outward from his face and the ball is to the right of the viewer. For this interpretation the frame of reference inherent to the viewer determines the meaning of ‘yòubian’ (right). In another situation, the ball is to the right side of the box, which is determinable by the intrinsic frontal properties of the box, for instance, the side with a lock on it is conventionally considered to be the front of the box. In this case, whatever the vantage point of the viewer is, the sentence is appropriate, because the frame of reference inherent to the box determines the spatial relation.

[1] Loar, J. K. (2011). Chinese syntactic grammar: functional and conceptual principles. New York: Peter Lang.
answered Jun 20 by Ariel (34,470 points)

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