Mandarin Chinese syntax/sem

10/16/13 midterm review

posted Oct 16, 2013, 3:18 PM by shuo zhang

1.what are the top three important grammars? (w/ examples)

2.what are the top five vocabularies?

3.what are the most difficulty hanzi?

4.give two sentences in English for the class to translate into Chinese.

sufei:lost in translation

posted Oct 16, 2013, 1:26 PM by shuo zhang   [ updated Oct 16, 2013, 3:19 PM ]

Sexy Beijing: Lost in Translation
An episode about cultures of names


posted Jan 24, 2013, 7:12 PM by shuo zhang   [ updated Jan 24, 2013, 7:23 PM ]

This problem comes from translating this sentence into Chinese:
(1)When is the best time for me to go?

So first we have:
    I     when    go
which left out the 'best'. well it turns out the solution of where to put 最好 is really simple:it can be in the end, or in the beginning, behaving like an adverb:

   I     when      go     best
    I   best   when     go
Here I argued that 最好 (zuihao,best) in Chinese is really both an adv and an adj. I then generalized that most adj and adv in Chinese do not distinguish one another morphologically. (consider:我吃的很高兴, 我高兴的走了vs. 我很高兴)。

Also, I argued that 'best' in English is really adj, not adv, therefore we get a contrast of where to put 'best' between (1) and (3) above. But someone gave me some evidence that 'best' can be an adv in English:

(5)The rice goes best with chicken. 
(6)I travel best relaxed.
(7)This process is best described by rule 1.
(how about the active voice of (7)??)

Here, best does modify the verb, but it behaves different from typical adverbs in its distribution. An adverb can usually be placed in different spots in the sentence:
(8)I wrote the letter happily.
(9)I happily wrote the letter.
(10)Happily, I wrote the letter.

However, consider displacing 'best' in (5):
?(11) This rice goes with chicken best.
?(12) This rice best goes with chicken.
*(13) Best, this rice goes with chicken.

Therefore, 'best' is not a typical adverb in the sense of 'happily', 'ideally', or 'sadly'. 

But, if we consider the scale good-better-best, and the pair good-well, then we can go further. 'well' is an adv whereas 'good' is adj. But the forms 'better' and 'best' do not have a corresponding adv form (is that right?). Therefore, we have
(14) This rice goes well with chicken.

and (5) above. However, we see that the adv. 'well' also behave differently from advs like 'happily':
(15) He plays the violin well. 
?(16) He plays well the violin.
*(17) well, he plays the violin. 

Therefore, we cannot doubt whether 'best' is an adv based on the displacement test. The real question is that if 'best' is an adv, why we do not say sentences like the Chinese sentence (3) in English with 'best':
*(18) when is the time for me to go there best?

這-zhe, zhei, zen

posted Nov 18, 2012, 10:25 AM by shuo zhang

We have noticed the three pronunciations of this word. These three pronunciations have different distributions, however:

zhe---universally used (can be used in any case that involves 這)。

zhei---specifically to use (from Northern dialect) in cases of 這裡,這邊,這個, i.e., cases of pointing direction, this, this side, this place, etc.

zen---specifically used to indicate degree, e.g., 這麼好(this good), 這麼多(this much), etc. 

就(jiu) and hidden meanings

posted Nov 18, 2012, 10:12 AM by shuo zhang   [ updated Nov 18, 2012, 10:17 AM ]

就(jiu), a connective in Chinese, is often not translated, or simply translated as 'and' in English, but there is something the speaker means to convey in using 'jiu' that is not conveyed by 'and'. 

(1) 我一走她就来了。
She came as soon as I left.
(2) 后来王朋帮我学习中文,就觉得不难了。
Later, Wang Peng helped me learn Chinese, and it became easier for me (to learn).

一...就 often used as "as soon as", where sometime "一“ is actually omitted, leaving a 就 by itself. However, in the case it is not translated 'as soon as', as in (2), then 就 still indicates a change in situation. In the case of (2), this indicates that before Wang Peng helped me, I thought that learning Chinese is pretty hard. This generalization seems to hold for most cases. More examples:

She asked again and again, and I said yes. (=before I didn't say yes)

就is also used in some other cases to pair with a conditional such as 'if':
If it does not rain tomorrow, we will go to the park. (notice how 'jiu' is not translated)

Finally, 就 can also be used sometimes interchangeably with '还是‘, indicating finally deciding on choosing one option out of many:
let's eat here (indicating we've considered many options, and finally suggesting just resting on this one).
I will go there afterall (indicating I finally decided to go after debating whether to go or not. In this case, the focus/stress is pronounced as on 去).

Of course, we also have the case where 就 conveys the speakers expectations, as contrasted with the use of 才:

Both translate into "she came back at 10pm", but as we have discussed before, (7) indicates that the speaker's expectation is that she should come back later than 10pm, and it is beyond the speaker's expectation that she came home early. (8) on the other hand conveys that the expectation is earlier, that the speaker is expecting her to come back before 10, and to convey the tone that she is late. 

These "untranslated" hidden meanings in the usage is consistent with the tendency of Chinese to use some functional words (such as 就,都,才)to convey some sort of underlying meaning or expectations.

Mandarin: le (了)

posted Nov 3, 2012, 6:07 PM by shuo zhang

了 seems to appear everywhere, and it has a complex usage. consider these sentences:

(1) 我吃午飯了。
I already had lunch.
(2) 下雨了。
It started raining. 

Presumably these represent very different 'le's, since in (1) the action of eating lunch is already finished, in the past, and in (2) it is apparently still raining right now, in which case 'le' signifies a change in situation. However, with a clear time word we can then clearly indicate that the raining is in the past and does not continue to the present:

(3) 昨天下雨了。
It rained yesterday.

More example similar to (1):
(4) 我寫作業了。
I did my homework.

More examples similar with (2):
He is here. (as in he just got here).
He came yesterday. 

'le' has other usages too, such as indicating one is about to do something at this moment, which usually also involves a different intonation pattern from other 'le's (i.e. the same sentence can be interpreted as a past tense 'le' or a future tense 'le' depending on the prosodic pattern of the utterance). 

The detailed usage of 'le' is very complex and deserves a more elaborate analysis.

phrase structure, relative clauses and 的(de)

posted Nov 3, 2012, 6:07 PM by shuo zhang

In general, 'de' correspond to the English -'s, as in possessive. But, 
consider the following phrases:
data format:

Phrase in Mandarin (gloss, marking 'de')

(1)紅的書 (red de book)
(2)學中文的人 (learn-Chinese de people)
(3)我的書 (1P de book)
(4)這本書的內容 (this book de content)
(5)彼得的書 (Peter de book)
All these phrases appear similar with [A de B] structure. However, they translate into wildly different structures in English, which has proven to be a confusing case for L2 Chinese learners. here are the corresponding English translations:

(1) red book (adj+n)
(2) people who learn Chinese (relative clause)
(3) my book (possessive)
(4) the content of this book (compound noun phrase)
(5) Peter's book (possessive)

Only (5) resemble the general possessive -'s interpretation.


posted Nov 3, 2012, 6:06 PM by shuo zhang   [ updated Nov 3, 2012, 6:37 PM ]

Both translate to 'think', but consider:
(1)I think your dress is too dark.
(2)Let me think about it.
(3)I think it's going to rain tomorrow.

Chinese (asterisk means this sentence is grammatically bad):
(1)a *我想你的衣服太暗了。
(1)b 我覺得你的衣服太暗了(result of thinking, a state)。
(2)a 讓我想一想吧(process of thinking, an activity)。
(2)b *讓我覺得一下吧。
(3)a 我想明天可能會下雨。
(3)b 我覺得明天可能會下雨。

(1) and (2) shows how the two lexical items divide the space of the word "think": one is the process of think (activity) and the other is the result of thinking, like an opinion (a state). (3) is strongly correlated with modals, and it entails conjecture, where both are good. In this case, it's possible 想 comes from a different lexical item, 猜想, which in this usage always pair with modals.

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