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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program

The two positions of Chinese relative clauses

Lan Zhang

[See full text of dissertation]


The position of a Chinese relative clause in a complex nominal is flexible; it can either precede or follow a numeral or a demonstrative. Researchers have examined the possibility that the two different positions of a relative clause may correspond to the distinction between a restrictive and an appositive relative clause. By evaluating whether Chinese relative clauses have the same syntactic properties as English appositive relative clauses, it has been proposed that Chinese does not have appositive relative clauses. This dissertation looks at the differences between the complex nominals with the two different internal orders from another angle. It investigates their semantic functions by first examining their syntactic structures.

Such an approach is possible because of the results of Aoun and Li's (2003) analysis of the syntactic structure and derivation of Chinese relative clauses, which posits a [NP CP NP] structure of Chinese relative clauses. The dissertation argues that when the relative clause follows the numeral or the demonstrative, the nominal is a NumP or DP, with the relative clause left-adjoined to the noun and modifying the noun. When the relative clause precedes the numeral or the demonstrative, the nominal is further derived into a Focus Projection, with the relative clause occupying the specifier position. The nominal identifies an exhaustive subset of entities which satisfies the description of the relative clause out of a potential set. This account differs from previous analyses which state that the difference between the two lies in definiteness or specificity. An examination of the different distributions of the two provides evidence to support my analysis.

The dissertation is organized in six chapters. Following an introduction in Chapter One, Chapter Two provides a conceptual background by investigating nominal interpretations such as (in)definiteness and (non)specificity. Chapter Three presents previous analyses on the distribution and interpretations of the two types of nominals. A review in Chapter Four establishes the syntactic derivation and structure of a Chinese relative clause, which leads to the main analysis in Chapter Five. A conclusion to the dissertation is provided by the summary in Chapter Six.