Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 247-271

First online:

N'-ellipsis and the structure of noun phrases in Chinese and Japanese

  • Mamoru SaitoAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology and Philosophy, Nanzan University Email author 
  • , T.-H. Jonah LinAffiliated withGraduate Institute of Linguistics, National Tsing Hua University
  • , Keiko MurasugiAffiliated withDepartment of British and American Studies, Nanzan University

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It has been widely assumed since Kitagawa and Ross (Linguist Anal 9: 19–53, 1982) that noun phrases in Chinese and Japanese are quite similar in structure. They are N-final in surface word order, they employ “modifying markers” (de in Chinese and no in Japanese) extensively, and they require classifiers for numeral expressions. In this paper, we argue that, contrary to appearance, they have quite distinct structures. We examine N'-ellipsis in the two languages and present supporting evidence for the hypothesis argued for by Simpson (in: Tang and Liu (eds.) On the formal way to Chinese languages, 2003), among others, that Chinese noun phrases are head-initial. According to this hypothesis, de is D, and a classifier heads another projection within DP. Japanese noun phrases, on the other hand, are head-final. No is a contextual Case marker, as proposed by Kitagawa and Ross (Linguist Anal 9: 19–53, 1982), and classifier phrases are adjuncts modifying nominal projections. Our discussion shows that Kayne’s (The antisymmetry of syntax, 1994) analysis of N-final relatives applies elegantly to Chinese but not to Japanese. It thus suggests that Japanese relative clauses are head-final throughout the derivation.


Noun phrase Modifying marker N'-ellipsis Head parameter Determiner phrase Classifier Relative clause