Volume 4, Issue 1
  • ISSN 2215-1354
  • E-ISSN: 2215-1362
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Multiple verb constructions have been studied intensively in Chinese. However, given the typological differences between the Indo-European languages and Chinese, it is no surprise that the application of a ‘Western’ notion, namely ‘serial verb construction’ (SVC), has caused much debate. This study provides a working definition of ‘SVC’ in Old Chinese and then turns to diachronic issues, for example, the combinatorial possibilities of multiple verbs in Old Chinese, pre-Middle Chinese, and Middle Chinese, clarifying which kind of complex constructions may be regarded as verb serialising and which as verb compounding. With this in place, the study approaches an understanding of the evolution of multiple verb formations in Chinese. The finding reveals that multiple verbs in Old Chinese are combined via verb serialisation. Six combinatorial possibilities are confirmed: (a) unergative V + unergative V; (b) transitive V + unaccusative V; (c) unaccusative V + unaccusative V (change of state); (d) unergative V + unaccusative V; (e) transitive V + transitive V; (f) unaccusative V + unaccusative V (motion). These can be further classified into two groups: Group I: (a)–(d) are SVCs; Group II: (e)–(f) are SVCs. In pre-Middle Chinese, there are signs of verb compounding. The occurrence of disyllabic word roots in the Early Han Dynasty as well as (de)grammaticalisation may be responsible for this. In Middle Chinese, the grammaticalisation of transitive change-of-state verbs, and the degrammaticalisation of motion verbs, led to three different lexical categories: (a) partial intransitive change-of-state verbs turned into resultative complements (resulting in [transitive V + unaccusative V] SVC transiting into predicate-complement V-V (change-of-state)); (b) partial motion verbs degrammaticalised and turned into directional complements (resulting in [unergative V + unaccusative V] SVC transiting into predicate-complement V-V (motion)); and (c) the first verb in [coordinate SVC] receives preverbalisation (giving rise to modifier-predicate V-V).


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