Month: April 2009

Modal Concord in Mandarin?

It seems to me that there are many cases where two or more morphemes that express the same meaning can be used together in one sentence in Mandarin. Although to some extent one of them seems redundant, they are nonetheless grammatical. I wonder if all these cases can be regarded as certain kind of concord? Maybe not in the strict sense, but to some extent, it might very well be. For example, the possibility modal neng and de can both express ability. Normally one is enough.

(1) Ni neng zuo-wan gongke ma?

you can do-finish homework Q

Can you finish doing the homework?

(2) Ni zuo-de-wan gongke ma?

you do-can-finish homework Q

Can you finish doing the homework?

But if you use both, it is perfectly ok. At least a lot of times, I would use such sentences as:

(3) Ni neng zuo-de-wan gongke ma?

So  according to Zeijlstra (2007) “Modal Concord (MC) is a phenomenon where two modal expressions do not yield a cumulative reading, but yield only one modal operator at LF”. Indeed I feel the Mandarin examples do not have a cumulative reading either.

Besides modal concord, I think there are many other “concord” examples. For example, universal concord, as I have argued in one of my papers. Generally Mandarin is a language with a lot of overt operators, and many of such operators can be used together, resulting in various concord phenomena. Of course these are just some informal thoughts so far. I’ll look into such issues more carefully when I have time. But of course if you are interested in these ideas, please leave me a message, and we’ll probably work together on some interesting paper.