The University of Hong Kong
School of Humanities
Department of Linguistics
The Structure of Numeral-Classifier Phrase
Professor and Associate Dean
Department of Chinese & Bilingual Studies, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
27 February, 2012 (Monday) 4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Place: T2, Meng Wah Complex
ALL ARE WELCOME!
A long-standing controversy in the analysis of Chinese nominal phrases is the structural relation of its four major components: determiner, numeral, classifier and noun. A main stream analysis is to assign a maximum projection to each of them, as in [1a]; while another popular one is to have classifier as the head of definite nominal phrases and numeral as the head of indefinite ones as in [1b] and [1c] respectively. Yet another one is to put numeral into the Spec of Number Phrase, as in [1d].
（1） a. [DP [D na] [NumP [Num san] [CLP [CL ge] [NP [N ren]]]]]
b. [ClP [Cl’ [Cl ben] [NP [N shu]]]]
c. [NumP [Num san] [ClP [Cl’ [Cl ben] [NP [N shu]]]]]
d. [DP [D na] [NumP [Spec san] [Num’ [Num plural][CLP [CL ge] [NP [N ren]]]]]]
Another hot issue is the dichotomy of massifiers vs classifiers, one for mass nouns and one for countable nouns. The distinction is based on the argument that although both can take a noun phrase as complement, a massifier can also appear in DE construction modifying a noun phrase but a classifier cannot, as shown in (2a) and (2b).
（2） a. san wan de tang b. *shi zhi de bi
three Cl DE soup ten Cl DE pen
“three bowls of soup” “ten pieces of pen”
The phenomena are actually more complicated. Although numeral, classifier and noun can all take an unmarked modifier, as shown in (3), only phrases beginning with a determiner, a numeral or a noun can take a modifier marked with DE. This distribution cannot be accounted for on the basis of any structure in (1). The distribution of massifier and classifier is not that clear-cut. Wan “bowl” is a typical massifier that can appear in a DE construction, but it does not take a noun directly in cases like (4a). Ben “copy” is a typical classifier but it appears in a DE construction legitimately in (4b). This pattern calls for a different analysis.
（3） jin-san-bai da-kuang hong-pingguo
nearly-three-hundred big-basket red-apple
“nearly three hundred big-baskets of red apples”
（4） a. Wo yao yi fen san wan *(de) tang.
I want one Cl three bowl DE soup
“I want a soup that is enough for three bowls.”
b. Wo yao (yi-tao) si ben de Hongloumeng.
I want (one-set) four copy DE Dream of the Red Chamber
“I want the four volume set of Dream of the Red Chamber.”
The proposal here is to have (5) as the internal structure of a Chinese nominal phrase. A DE construction modifies a phrase while an unmarked modifier forms a compound with numeral, classifier or noun. The distribution of these modifiers can thus be accounted for. The DE construction formed with a classifier or massifier has a special reading of total amount, which restricts the range of the noun phrase. Both classifier and massifier have this function.
（5） [DP [D na] [NumCLP [NumCL’ [NumCL [Num san]-[CL ben]] [NP [N shu]]]]]
About the Speaker
Dingxu Shi received his MA in Applied Linguistics from University of Pittsburgh in 1986 and his PhD in Linguistics from University of Southern California in 1992. He joined the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 1994 and has been working in the Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies ever since.
His research interest is mainly on Chinese syntax, interface between syntax and semantics, language situation in Hong Kong, and language contact and language change. He has published about one hundred papers in journals like Language, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, Journal of East Asian Linguistics, Journal of Chinese Linguistics, Studies of the Chinese Language, Contemporary Linguistics, Foreign Language Teaching and Research, and Foreign Languages, covering topics like Chinese interrogative sentences, topic and comment constructions, Chinese nominal compounds and nominal phrases, clause structures in Chinese, sentence-final particles, pidgin and creole languages, Cantonese grammar, language use in Hong Kong and Hong Kong Written Chinese. He also published six books and edited two.