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Low sentence-final particles in Mandarin Chinese and the Final-over-Final Constraint


Mandarin Chinese clausal syntax can be described as strictly head-initial, with the exception of certain “particles” which are linearized at the end of the clause. Previous work on these sentence-final particles (SFPs) has assumed that all SFPs are very high, in the CP periphery. In this paper I show that a subset of SFPs are in a lower, clause-medial position, based on the scopal interaction of these SFPs with negation, modals, quantificational subjects, and alternative question disjunction. I identify this position as coinciding with the edge of the lower phase, traditionally identified as vP. As SFPs are head-final heads with head-initial complements, they have been discussed as an important apparent exception to the Final-over-Final Constraint (FOFC), a proposed universal on structure-building and linearization. The existence of exceptions to FOFC in a clause-medial position in addition to the CP edge motivates the view that FOFC holds only within individual Spell-Out domains.

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Erlewine, M.Y. Low sentence-final particles in Mandarin Chinese and the Final-over-Final Constraint. J East Asian Linguist 26, 37–75 (2017).

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  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Sentence-final particles
  • Scope
  • Final-over-Final Constraint
  • FOFC domains
  • Phases
  • Spell-Out