Grammaticalization in Chinese

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The present paper shows that constructions are the driving force of grammaticalization in Chinese. It will be argued that this is due to two typological properties: the relative freedom with which a lexical item can be assigned to different grammatical functions (precategoriality in Late Archaic Chinese) and the ease with which one and the same surface structure can be subject to different syntactic analyses (Bisang 2009 on “hidden complexity”). The constructions that are relevant for grammaticalization in Chinese consist of slots that are associated with certain grammatical categories. Processes of reanalysis take place within these slots – a given lexical item is assigned the function associated with the syntactic slot in which it occurs. Such a construction-based account excludes continuity because the occurrence in a particular slot always leads to a discrete interpretation that is determined by the function associated with that slot. Continuity is only possible if two or more constructions are combined into a larger structure or if a new construction emerges. The former case will be illustrated by verbs in adpositional functions (coverbs), the latter by the resultative construction as it emerged in the 1st centuries AD. Finally, the constructional approach will also show that Aarts’s (2004, 2007) distinction between subsective and intersective gradience cannot be maintained.


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