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The semantic category of the subject NP in Mandarin specificational copular sentences

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I show that in Mandarin specificational copular sentences (sentences headed by the copula shi, in which the subject NP is typically a definite or indefinite description), the subject NP should be treated as a referential, rather than a predicative expression. This conclusion bears on the recent debate on whether specificational copular sentences should be treated as equative or as (inverted) predicational sentences, coming out against the latter. Evidence is adduced from (i) the distribution of the copula in nominal and non-nominal predication sentences, which I show also suggests that the Mandarin copula has a predicate-creation function; and (ii) asymmetries in the interpretation of bare nouns and indefinite NPs in the subject and complement positions of shi.

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Associative particle




Perfective marker


Question particle





1, 2, 3:

1st, 2nd, 3rd person


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Correspondence to Shiao Wei Tham.

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Tham, S.W. The semantic category of the subject NP in Mandarin specificational copular sentences. J East Asian Linguist 17, 61–82 (2008).

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