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All structures great and small: on copular sentences with shì in Mandarin

On the 2nd of September, Hang Cheng successfully defended a doctoral thesis. The Leiden University Centre for Linguistics congratulates Hang on this achievement!

Hang Cheng
02 September 2021
Leiden University Repository

This dissertation provides a description and analysis of the Mandarin copula shì and copular structures containing it. On the basis of a comprehensive description of the syntactic distribution of shì and properties of different types of copular sentences (predicational, specificational, and equative), this study proposes a unified structural analysis for predicational and specificational copular sentences in Mandarin.

It is proposed that shì is a functional element in the structure of the clause. Importantly, shì is not a verb, and copular structures in Mandarin contain no verb phrase at all, which is consistent with proposals about pronominal copular elements in other languages. Specificational copular sentences are analysed as inverted predicational copular sentences, derived via predicate inversion. This analysis captures both the underlying similarities and the differences between the two types of copular sentences. It is also pointed out that the third type of copular sentences, equatives, is clearly distinct from both predicational and specificational copular sentences and should thus be analysed in a different way.The dissertation also proposes that tense is not always syntactically expressed in Mandarin copular structures. While sentences with a stage-level predicate express tense syntactically, those with an individual-level predicate do not.

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