Chinese Passives in Comparative Perspective

Vol. 29 No. 4   12/1999  


Chinese Passives in Comparative Perspective


C.-T. James Huang









Key words

passivization, null-operator movement, pro-movement, indirect passive,adversative passives, parametric theory, Chinese, Japanese


     This paper provides a detailed analysis of two types of Mandarin Chinese passives, and discusses their implications for linguistic theory and syntactic typology. In contrast to traditional opposing views, we defend an analysis of Chinese passives that crucially postulates both complementation and movement. The long passive involves an experiential verb taking a clausal complement which turns itself into a secondary predicate, whereas the short passive involves an experiential auxiliary taking a VP complement which undergoes internal NP- movement. We then compare Mandarin passives to passives in other language, including two Chinese dialects (Taiwanese Min and Cantonese). Japanese, Korean, English and Romance, and are led to several broader questions, including (a) the universality of the notion ‘passive’, (b) sources of cross-linguistic variations, and (c) the proper analysis of ‘indirect passive’ (both the ‘possessive passives’ and the ‘adversative passives’), etc. It is shown that, universally, passivization intransitivezes transitive predicates, but intransitivization may take the form of suppressing the external argument or of type-shifting an internal argument into a secondary predicate. Furthermore, given the existence of indirect passives, case absorption is not a universal property of passivization. For the analysis of indirect passives, it is argued that they involve the passivization of complex predicates that take external objects (the ‘outer object’ for the possessive passive, and the ‘outermost object’ for the adversative passive). Finally, the range of cross-linguistic variations in passivization can be insightfully viewed as a function of the variation in the ‘strengths’ of the passivizing morpheme: whether it is a verb, an auxiliary, a clitic, or a suffix. These observations fit well current views of parametric theory, which attributes complicated syntactic differences to small lexical variations across languages.



Author: C.-T. James Huang
Genre: Article