Referential Instructions in Mandarin Nominal System: Bare Nominal Constructions Versus Prenominal Modifications

  • Meichun LiuEmail author
  • Yingying Ye
Part of the Frontiers in Chinese Linguistics book series (FiCL, volume 9)


This study aims to account for the referentiality in Mandarin nominals by observing bare nouns and prenominal modifications. Bare nouns are unique and common in Mandarin; Modified nouns here refer to nouns with one or more modifications with de. Based on corpus findings, this study proposes a form-meaning mapping account for referential properties summarized as follows: bare nouns are a convenient device encodes two opposite ends of referential instructions, which are highly identifiable to listeners or there is no instruction/no need to identify the referent; the middle continuum are fulfilled with prenominal modifications. Semantically the more prototypically characterizing the modification is, contextually the more informationally given and identifiable the modification is, the much closer it is to head noun. In sum, the study is significant in showing that semantic prototypicality and information flow at the discourse-level work together to determine preferentiality marking and functional position of prenominal constructions in Mandarin.


Referential instructions Bare nominal constructions Prenominal modifications Semantic prototypicality Information flow 



“的” (Chinese prenominal marker)


“過” (Chinese experiential marker)












  1. Chen, P. 2004. Identifiability and definiteness in Chinese. Linguistics 42 (6): 1129–1184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chen, P. 2009. Aspects of referentiality. Journal of Pragmatics 41: 1657–1674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chen, P. 2015. Referentiality and definiteness in Chinese. In The Oxford handbook of Chinese linguistics, ed. S.-Y. Wang and C. Sun, 404–413. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Chen, P. 2016. Hanyu Dingzhi Fanchou He Yufahua Wenti. Dangdai Xiuci Xue 4: 1–13.Google Scholar
  5. Frajzyngier, Z., and E. Shay. 2016. The role of functions in syntax: A unified approach to language theory, description, and typology. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  6. Frajzyngier, Z., M. Liu, and Y. Ye. Reference system in Mandarin. Paper under reviewed by Australian Journal of Linguistics (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  7. Givón, T. 1985. Iconicity, isomorphism, and non-arbitrary coding in syntax. In: Iconicity in syntax: Proceedings of a symposium on iconicity in syntax.Google Scholar
  8. Givón, T. 1993. English grammar: A functional-based introduction, vol. 2. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.Google Scholar
  9. Huang, C.-T. 2016. The syntax and semantics of prenominals: Construction or composition? Language and Linguistics 17 (4): 431–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kuo, Y.-C. 2008. A pragmatic approach to the interpretations of Mandarin bare nouns. Journal of Pragmatics 40: 1082–1102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. LaPolla, J.R. 2013. Arguments for construction-based approach to the analysis of Chinese. In Human language resources and linguistic typology, ed. C.-Y. Tseng, 33–57. Taiwan: Academia Sinica.Google Scholar
  12. LaPolla, J.R. 2017. Noun-modifying clause constructions in Sino-Tibetan Languages. In Noun-modifying clause constructions in language of Eurasia: Rethinking theoretical and geographical boundaries, ed. Y. Matsumoto et al., 91–103. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  13. Li, C.N., and S.A. Thompson. 1981. Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press (1981).Google Scholar
  14. Lin, J.-W. 1994. Noun phrase structure in Mandarin Chinese: DP or NP. Paper at 3rd international conference on linguistics and language in China.Google Scholar
  15. Liu, M. 2017. The Chinese mind: What can Chinese tell us about grammar? Plenary presentation at 62nd annual conference of the international linguistic association, City University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  16. Liu, M., and Y. Ye. 2018a. The prenominal construction: A corpus-based study of Mandarin head-final noun phrases. Paper presented at IACL-27, University of Wisconsin-Madison.Google Scholar
  17. Liu, M., and Y. Ye. 2018b. Semantic constraints on Mandarin prenominal construction-a corpus-based study. Paper presented as 11th cross-strait symposium on modern Chinese language.Google Scholar
  18. Liu, M., J. Chen, and Y. Ye. 2017. What is encoded in Chinese bare nouns?-referential functions of bare nouns in Chinese discourse. Paper presented at 62nd ACILA, City University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  19. Lu, B. 2003. The basic function and derived function of “de” as viewed from its distribution. Chinese Teaching in the World 1: 14–29.Google Scholar
  20. Pan, H. 2018. Some issues in Chinese syntax and semantics-convert categories and logic form. Paper presented at IACL-27, University of Wisconsin-Madiso.Google Scholar
  21. Tang, C.-C. 1990. Chinese phrase structure and the extended x’-theory. PhD diss., Cornell University, New York.Google Scholar
  22. Tang, Z. 2018. Topic-like modifiers in Chinese nominal phrases. Contemporary Linguistics 20 (2): 159–178.Google Scholar
  23. Tsao, F.-F. 2010. Complement and adjunct distribution and the two-place nominals in Chinese NPs. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 38 (1): 87–114.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Peking University Press 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and TranslationCity University of Hong KongKowloonHong Kong

Personalised recommendations