Volume 24, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1606-822X
  • E-ISSN: 2309-5067



This paper investigates the syntax and semantics of the third person singular pronoun in Shanghainese in its non-referential use. Evidence from its phonological dependence and syntactic integration with the preceding host verb is presented to show that the non-referential is a clitic. It is further observed that this use of requires licensing from the [+subjunctive] feature, echoing Qian (2004) and Jin (2016). However, my analysis diverges from theirs in treating the in question as an expletive licensed by the [+subjunctive] feature, rather than a subjunctive marker itself on grounds that it is not obligatory in a subjunctive sentence and that the subjunctivity must always be encoded by other elements in the sentence. in this use serves as an emphatic, strengthening the effect of deontic or imperative force in subjunctive contexts. Furthermore, it is shown that the licensing must obey a locality condition, whereby the expletive must be licensed by a c-commanding licenser in its local domain. From the perspective of grammaticalization, I propose that is going through an intermediate stage of becoming a purely modal functional marker. A final stage of this “upward” grammaticalization can be found in the expletive use of the third person pronoun in Cantonese, which has become a more grammaticalized marker that has scope over the sentence. It is pointed out that the development of the expletive pronoun suggests that being at the right-periphery is a crucial factor in motivating and facilitating grammaticalization in Chinese. Last, a comparison between the non-referential and the Mandarin non-referential third person pronoun in the V--NP/AP construction is presented, showing that both cases manifest interactions between VP-internal projections and higher functional categories.

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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): clitic; expletive; grammaticalization; locality condition; mood/modal
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