Journal of Universal Language
Sejong University Language Research Institue

Word Order Change in Mandarin Chinese from the Perspective of Syntactic Typology and Universals - A Case Study of the Ba + Gei Structure

Haiyong Liu1,
1Wayne State University, USA
Corresponding Author : Haiyong Liu, Department of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA. Phone: 313-577-9937; Email:

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Jun 18, 2014; Revised: Jul 22, 2014; Accepted: Aug 01, 2014

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


In this paper, I first compare features in Mandarin that are related to head directionality with those listed in Greenberg (1966) and Dryer (1992) and examine the hypothesis by Tai (1973) and Li

& Thompson (1974) that Mandarin is drifting from an SVO to an SOV language. Then, I study the under-studied ba + gei structure in Mandarin, which reflects the possibility of an emerging split case-marking system, i.e., Nominative-Accusative marking in the usually perfective ba + gei structure and zero-marking elsewhere. Data from Korean, Japanese, and Russian further supports the possible reanalysis in the creation of a case-marking system in the ba + gei structure, which is more of a feature of an SOV language.

Keywords: ba-structure; Chinese; word order; split case-marking; reanalysis



Bach, E. 1971. Questions. Linguistic Inquiry 2, 153-166.


Baker, C. 1970. Notes on the Description of English Questions: The Role of an Abstract Question Morpheme. Foundations of Language 6, 197-219.


Bender, E. 2000. The Syntax of Mandarin Ba: Reconsidering the Verbal Analysis. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 9.2, 105-145.


Chao, Y-R. 1968. A Grammar of Spoken Chinese. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


Chappell, H., L. Ming & A. Peyraube. 2007. Chinese Linguistics and Typology: The State of the Art. Linguistic Typology 11.1, 187-211.


Cheung, L. 2009. Dislocation Focus Construction in Chinese. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 18.3, 197-232.


Comrie, B. 1989. Language Universals and Linguistic Typology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


Dryer, M. 1992. The Greenbergian Word Order Correlations. Language 68.1, 81-138.


Dryer, M. 2003. Word Order in Sino-Tibetan Languages from a Typological and Geographical Perspective. In G. Thurgood & R. LaPolla (eds.), The Sino-Tibetan Languages 83-99. London: Routledge.


Duanmu, S. 2007. The Phonology of Standard Chinese (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Feng, S. 1995. Prosodic Structure and Prosodically Constrained Syntax in Chinese. Ph.D. Dissertation. The University of Pennsylvania.


Gao, Q. 2008. Word Order in Mandarin: Reading and Speaking. In M. Chan & H. Kang (eds.), Proceedings of the 20th North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics 2, 611-626. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University.


Givón, T. 1976. Topic, Pronoun, and Grammatical Agreement. In C. Li (ed.), Subject and Topic 149-188. New York: Academic Press.


Giorgi, A. & F. Pianesi. 1997. Tense and Aspect: From Semantics to Morphosyntax. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Grahek, S. 2008. Middles in Slovene. Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics and Phonetics 13, 44-75.


Greenberg, J. 1966. Some Universals of Grammar with Particular Reference to the Order of Meaningful Elements. In J. Greenberg (ed.), Universals of Language (2nd edition) 73-113. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Hawkins, J. 1979. Implicational Universals as Predictors of Word-Order Change. Language 55, 618-648.


Hawkins, J. 1994. A Performance Theory of Order and Constituency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Hawkins, J. & G. Gillian. 1988. Prefixing and Suffixing Universals in Relation to Basic Word Order. Lingua 74, 219-260.


Haspelmath, M. et al. 2008. The World Atlas of Language Structures. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library.


Her, O. 2005. Justifying Part-of-Speech Assignments for Mandarin Gei. Lingua 116, 1274-1302.


Hopper, P. & S. Thompson. 1980. Transitivity in Grammar and Discourse. Language 56.2, 251-299.


Huang, J., A. Li & Y. Li. 2009. The Syntax of Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Huang, J. 1982. Logical Relations in Chinese and the Theory of Grammar. Ph.D. Dissertation. MIT.


Huang, J. 1992. Complex Predicates in Control. In R. Larson et al. (eds.), Control and Grammar 109-147. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Press.


Huang, J. 1999. Chinese Passive in Comparative Perspective. Tsinghua Journal of Chinese Studies 29, 423-509.


Koopman, H. 1984. The Syntax of Verbs: From Verb Movement Rules in the Kru Languages to Universal Grammar. Berlin: Foris Publications.


Li, A. 1990. Order and Constituency in Mandarin Chinese. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Press.


Li, C. & S. Thompson. 1974. An Explanation of Word Order Change: SVO > SOV. Foundations of Language 12, 201-214.


Li, C. & S. Thompson. 1981. Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.


Liu, D. 2004. Identical Topics: A More Characteristic Property of Topic Prominent Languages. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 32, 20-64.


Liu, F. 1997. An Aspectual Analysis of Ba. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 6, 51-99.


Liu, F. 1999. Transitivity and Structure Preservation. In M. Darnell et al. (eds.), Functionalism and Formalism in Linguistics II, Case Studies 175-202. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Liu, F. 2007. Word Order Variation and Ba Sentences in Chinese. Studies in Language 31.3, 649-682.


Liu, H. 2008. Bu-Yu, the Complex-Predicate Structures in Mandarin. Müchen: Lincom Europa.


Ma, X. 1991. Hanzang yu gailun [A general introduction to Sino-Tibetan languages]. Beijing: Peking University Press.


Madariaga, N. 2008. The Economy of Reanalysis: Syntactic Change as a Last Resort Operation. In A. Antonenkeo, J. Bailyn & C. Bethin (eds.), Proceedings of the Annual Workshop on Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics 248-265. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic Publications.


McCawley, J. 1970. English as a VSO Language. Language 46, 286-299.


Mahajan, A. 2003. Word Order and (Remnant) VP Movement. In S. Karimi (ed.), Word Order and Scrambling 217-237. Malden, MA: Blackwell.


McWhorter, J. 2008. Why Does a Language Undress? Strange Cases in Indonesia. In M. Meistamo, K. Sinnemaki & F. Karlsson (eds.), Langauge Complexity: Typology, Contact, Change 167-190. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Mei, K. 1978. Bazi ju [The ba-structure]. Wen shi zhe xue bao [The newsletter of literature, history, and philosophy] 27, 145-180.


Norman, J. 1988. Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Park, C. & S. Lee. 2006. Grammaticalization and Korean Dative Markers. Papers from the 42th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society 253-266.


Park, C. & S. Lee. 2009. The Evolution of Korean Dative Markers: Its Formal and Cognitive Motivations. Language Research 45.2, 283-318.


Peyraube, A. 1996. Recent Issues in Chinese Historical Syntax. In J. Huang & A. Li (eds.), New Horizons in Chinese Linguistics 161-213. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Press.


Quirk, R. et al. 1972. A Grammar of Contemporary English. London: Longman.


Sanders, G. 1972. Adverbial Constructions. Working Papers on Language Universals 10, 93-128. Stanford, CA: Stanford University.


Shi, Y. 2004. Jian biao beidong he chuzhi de gei de yufahua [The grammaticalization of gei that marks both passive voice and disposal structure]. Shi jie han yu jiao xue [Chinese teaching in the world] 69, 15-26.


Shibatani, M. 1996. The Languages of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University.


Sikorska, M. 2008. Linguistic Theory and the L2 Acquisition of Dative Arguments. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Ottawa.


Smet, H. 2009. Analyzing Reanalysis. Lingua 119, 1728-1755.


Sohn, H. 1999. The Korean Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Sun, C. 1995. Transitivity, Ba Construction, and Its History. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 23.1, 159-195.


Sun, C. 1996. Word-Order Change and Grammaticalization in the History of Chinese. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.


Sun, C. 2006. Chinese: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Sun, C. & T. Givón. 1985. On the So-Called SOV Word Order in Mandarin Chinese: A Quantified Text Study and Its Implications. Language 61, 329-351.


Sybesma, R. 1992. Causatives and Accomplishments: The Case of Chinese Ba. Ph.D. Dissertation. Leiden University.


Sybesma, R. 1999. The Mandarin VP: Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 44. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Szeto, Y. 1988. A Semantic Study of Transitivity Relations in Chinese. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Ottawa.


Tai, J. 1973. Chinese as an SOV Language. Papers from the 9th Chicago Linguistic Society Meeting 9, 659-671.


Tang, S. 2001. A Complementation Approach to Chinese Passives and Its Consequences. Linguistics 39.2, 257-295.


Ting, J. 1998. Deriving the Bei-Construction in Mandarin Chinese. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 7, 319-354.


Trask, R. 1996. Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Wang, L. 1954. Zhongguo xiandai yufa [Grammar of modern Chinese]. Shanghai: Zhonghua Shuju.


Xu, D. 1992. Beijing hua zhong de yufa biaoji ci gei [The grammatical marker gei in Beijing Mandarin]. Fangyan [Dialects] 1, 54-60.


Yu, M. 1981. Daoju tanyuan [A discussion of inverse word order]. Yuyan yanjiu [Linguistic studies] 1, 78-82.


Zou, K. 1993. The Syntax of the Chinese Ba Construction. Linguistics 31, 715-736.