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) | 25 views

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Activity verbs denote actions that will go on for an indefinite time without having an inherent endpoint. Chinese Activity verbs lack the lexical complexity that is typical of most English verbs. In English, for instance, the verb ‘kill’ has the built-in lexical meaning ‘to cause to die’ or ‘to cause to become dead’. Thus, English verbs have the complex semantic structure that consists of action and goal (Chu, 1976). Therefore such verbs in the perfective aspect will assert the coming about of the result implied by the verbs. To say, for example, that *‘He killed the burglar but the burglar didn’t die.’ is contradictory. Chinese verbs, however, are not lexically complex, that is, they do not include in their lexical meanings the notion of goal or endpoint. Therefore, the verb ‘shā’ (kill) means the ‘action to attempt to deprive somebody of his life’, while the results of the action are expressed by different resultative complements, such as ‘shāsǐ’ (killdie), ‘shāshāng’ (kill-wound), or ‘shā chéng cánfèi’ (kill-become disabled). Without the notion of an endpoint or goal built in, the verbs like ‘shā’ (kill) and ‘zìshā’ (suicide) could only describe unbounded actions or events.

[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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