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我死了一匹马

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by Skatinginbc, Mar 20, 2013.

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  1. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Canada
    Mandarin 國語
    我死了一匹马
    院里开了一朵花
    How would you explain the above sentence structures to a Chinese learner by using grammatical terms like intransitive/transitive verb, object, subject, topic, or whatever?
     
     
    : syntax
  2. Ghabi

    Ghabi Moderator

    Cantonese (Hong Kong)
    Hi! I think it depends on the native tongue of the learner. In some languages the structure is quite understandable.

    In Arabic, 我死了一匹马 can be:

    ana maata lii 7iSaan انا مات لي حصان (literally: "I died belonging to-me a horse"-->"One of my horses died")

    In native Arabic grammar, ana would be the mubtada2 (مبتدأ "beginning") of the utterance, while that which follows, as a whole, is the khabar (خبر "news").

    In Japanese it's a bit tricky, as I think you have to use the so-called meiwaku no ukemi (迷惑の受身 "the passive of inconvenience"):

    boku-wa uma-ni shinaremashita 僕は馬に死なれました (literally: "I was died by a horse"-->"One of my horses died on me")

    For an English speaker, perhaps he can understand it as something like:

    -"Why do you look so upset? What happened to you?"
    -"I ... well, one of my horses died last night."

    And he needs to know that in Chinese one doesn't put something indefinite at the beginning, thus 死了一匹馬/有匹馬死了 instead of *一匹馬死了.
     
  3. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    And in Italian:
    Mi è morto un cavallo ("to me" died a horse) <= 我死了一匹马
    Nel cortile è sbocciato un fiore (in the patio blossomed a flower) <= 院里开了一朵花

    According to the Italian grammar, these are normal sentence where the verb comes before the subject.
    It's very common to use clitic pronoun (e.g. mi = to me) before the verb, instead of the possessive.
     
  4. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Canada
    Mandarin 國語
    Thank you, Ghabi and Youngfun. Your insights are indeed helpful. I'm amazed that other languages have expressions similar to 死了一匹馬.
    The mubtada2 of a normal sentence (الاسمية al-jumla l-ismiyya), which starts with a noun, is technically a "topic" (i.e., the element about which something is being told). Unlike English concept of "subject", which can be an indefinite noun (e.g., A car is coming), the Arabic mubtada2 has to be definite. It is more about how the information is structured (Old, then New) than about grammatical subject. So, can I say 我死了一匹马 is a Topic-Comment structure, where 我 is the topic?
    Um, what if the student says: "But it is not the beginning. The sentence starts with "我", which is definite"? (Sorry for being a difficult student. I always asked stupid questions and my teachers hated it :D.) That said, I DO think your statement has great merit, and I think it is likely the key to explain the inversion in the Comment section. My brain just hasn't clicked in yet.
    "Nel cortile" is an adverbial 地点状语, isn't it? What if the student says: "Why not 在院里开了一朵花?" To me, 在院里 like 於天下 is an adverbial, but 院里/天下 alone is something else (e.g., 宰执天下 "rule the world"). Actually, I think 院里 in this sentence is a noun functioning as a Topic. What do you think?
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013
  5. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    English/Cantonese
    I have actually never heard of the structure 我死了一匹马. Is this a regional thing or am I just ignorant?
     
  6. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Canada
    Mandarin 國語
    It has the same syntax as 她死了丈夫, 九龙医院死了一名产妇, 床上躺着一个陌生人, 花果山石缝里蹦出一石猴来...
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2013
  7. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    English/Cantonese
    Oh, OK, I see. The context of the original sentence got in the way of my understanding. Plus, this structure is used not so much in Cantonese, which partially explains why I didn't recognise it. Thank you, Skatinginbc, for the clarification.
     
  8. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    I'm sorry but I don't know how to answer. :eek:
    Actually I've never thought about the difference between 院里 and 在院里. I think here the distinction between "topic" and 地点状语 is very fuzzy, at least for me. But I'm not very good in grammar...
    Though I'd say that in my opinion, 天下 as in 宰执天下 is a different thing, because it's a direct object(直接宾语).
    According to Italian grammar "nel cortile" is definitely a "place object" (?), and there aren't other way to express it.
     
  9. SuperXW Senior Member

    Even in Cantonese people often say: 我(屋企)死左一只猫. 佢死左老公 etc...
    The uncommon thing is not the structure, but the thing 死了一匹马. Nobody owns horses today...
     
  10. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Canada
    Mandarin 國語
    If it is a "place object", then it surely sounds like a noun phrase.
    I used to regard 院里, 床上 and the like as adverbs, but recently I have started to think differently. They are something with a unique entity. Sometimes we need to add a preposition (e.g., 在) before them (e.g., 在床上吃东西是个坏习惯 :tick:) and yet sometimes it is ungrammatical to do so (e.g., 在院里开了一朵花 :cross:). Strange, isn't it? They seem to behave very much like a noun (e.g., 院里的 vs. 花园的 ==> Noun + 的; 进入院里 vs. 进入地狱 ==> Verb + Noun) and can be replaced with a locative pronoun (e.g., 这里, 那里).
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013
  11. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie MOD

    UK
    English (UK)
    The general principle is:
    - If the verb is to do with an action or activity (eg. 吃东西), you need 在: 在床上吃东西是个坏习惯; 在这儿抽烟;...
    - If the verb has to do with the existence (including the appearing & disappearing) of something, 在 is dropped: 院里开了一朵花; 九龙医院死了一名产妇, 床上躺着一个陌生人;...
    Most good teachers would encourage questions (i.e, sensible questions) but most would hate wasting class time.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013
  12. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Canada
    Mandarin 國語
    Well, we also say 在我心中消失, 他突然出现在院里, 一个人躺在床上, 一名产妇死在这里, 一朵花开在院里. 在 is not dropped in those phrases/sentences. It doesn't appear that the verb types play a role here. Sentence structure, however, does.
    An adverb is needed in these situations and one way to form an adverb is by adding a preposition (e.g., 在, 从) to a noun phrase (e.g., Beijing, Taiwan). So we have: 在北京, 从台湾, 在床上, 从这儿.
    So my question is still not answered: Is 院里 an adverb in 院里开了一朵花? Or should we treat it as a noun phrase that serves as a Topic in that structure?

    This is how I see it:
    在床上东吃西是个坏习惯 = 在床上吃东西 (Subject) + 是 (linking verb) + 一个坏习惯 (Complement). 在床上吃东西 "Eating on the bed" ==> A gerund clause serving as the subject.
    床上躺着一个陌生人 = 床上 (Topic) + 躺着一个陌生人 (Comment)(= 躺着 intransitive verb + 一个陌生人 agent). 床上 "The top of the bed" ==> A locative noun phrase serving as the topic.
    My questions:
    (1) Is my analysis correct or not?
    (2) If it is correct, can anyone explain why there is an inversion of Agent and Verb in the comment (i.e., 躺着一个陌生人 instead of 一个陌生人躺着)? I think Ghabi pointed to the right direction. I just haven't gotten a complete answer yet.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013
  13. Ghabi

    Ghabi Moderator

    Cantonese (Hong Kong)
    「人之患在好為人師」,我也不是語言學家,既然是forum,大家求的當然是討論,不用stupid, student什麼的。:eek:以我這樣的外行來看(所謂「行家看門道,外行看熱鬧」),你提的問題很有趣,也很複雜。現代漢語並非屈折語言,要搞清楚一句說話中不同部份的關係,其實很難。舉個例:

    у него
    умерла бабушка 死了奶奶

    在俄語裡,句子裡不同部份的關係很清楚,都由詞尾顯示了:「奶奶」是第一格(主格),「他」是第二格(у後接屬格),「死」的主語是「奶奶」(單數陰性а結尾)。YF舉的意大利語句子也大同小異。

    漢語裡又如何呢?假如有人說:「他」是主,「奶奶」是賓,「死」這裡是特殊用法,用作及物動詞,意思跟「他丁父/母憂」差不多。這樣說的話,我覺得也很難反駁(當然可能只是我笨!),因為漢語裡沒有相應的詞形變化(暫且撇開輕聲、變調等不談),是topic,是subject,有時也很難說得清。

    只是我一些不成熟的想法,「卑之無甚高論」,有錯請指正!
     
  14. BODYholic Senior Member

    Singapore
    Chinese Cantonese
    The only commonality I observed is that this structure employs an intransitive verb in a transitive way.
    死 is intransitive / 一匹马死(v.intr.)了 transforms in to --> 死(v.tr.)了一匹马.
    开 can be a transitive or intransitive verb / 一朵花开(v.intr.)在院里 transforms in to --> 院里开(v.tr.)了一朵花

    Based on your limited examples, it seems to me the types of verbs played a crucial role. As you can see all the verbs in your examples are intransitive. Was it a coincidence?

    甭急。可死马当活马医。:)
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013
  15. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Canada
    Mandarin 國語
    I was discussing intransitive verbs (e.g., 消失, 出现, 躺, 死, 开). When I said "verb types", I meant "types of intransitive verbs".
     
  16. tarlou Senior Member

    Chinese
    I have no experience in teaching, but if you are trying to explain the structure to your students, why not just say it is a new structure for them to learn...:eek:

    I've no idea about grammar but 在床上躺着一个人,从石缝里蹦出来一只猴 are correct to me. 在院子里开了一朵花 is indeed a little bit awkward, but I don't think it is as wrong as "ungrammatical". If 院子里 is a longer phrase, then adding 在 is again fine to me: for example, if someone says 在一个光秃秃的院子里,居然开了一朵小花, I won't feel it strange.

    And I think grammar may not be so important in Chinese. What Chinese people learned and studied in thousands of years are basically how to break grammars to be better in rhetoric. The development of Chinese is probably more about "quoting" than "making sentences within the scope of grammar". Consider the word "而立之年", how ungrammatical it is... Another example: A: 你爸爸死了 B: 你才爸爸死了呢. Obviously, the second speaker means 你爸爸才死了呢, but he quoted the first guy's word and used "爸爸死了" as a verb. I dare not to say there does not exist a simple grammar that is accurate for all Chinese sentences (a rough general grammar should exist), but if a linguist proposes this, I will be convinced.
     
  17. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie MOD

    UK
    English (UK)
    @Skatinginbc, my post #11 is a direct answer to your question concerning the two types of sentences starting with a noun phrase of location. Here is your original question:
    "Sometimes we need to add a preposition (e.g., 在) before them (e.g., 在床上吃东西是个坏习惯 ) and yet sometimes it is ungrammatical to do so (e.g., 在院里开了一朵花 ). Strange, isn't it?"
    And yet you came back with completely different types of sentences and claimed that your question was not answered. Well, good luck Skatinginbc, as I don't happen to be as patient as some other members here :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013
  18. BODYholic Senior Member

    Singapore
    Chinese Cantonese
    Oh I see. You were referring to XLJ's descriptions of intransitive verbs - action and existence.

    Sorry but would you consider yourself a tad unscrupulous?

    XLJ's explanations were based on your initial examples of 在床上/吃东西是个坏习惯 & 院里/开了一朵花. But you simply wrote him off with several examples of completely different sentence structure!!!
    You sure have a great time here. :thumbsdown:
     
  19. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Canada
    Mandarin 國語
    How about "床上作爱我可没兴趣, 院里看书我们倒可商量"? Both sentences start with "a noun phrase of location". Both contain a transitive action verb (i.e, 作爱 or 看书) but do not need 在.
    Anyway, my post #10 was to discuss whether 院里, 床上 or the like may serve as a noun. That is the "thesis question" of that entire post. The examples I gave included 院里的 and 进入院里, which were not restricted to the sentence initial position. I did not say "when used in the initial" in that entire post. Instead I said "sometimes" without specifying the linguistic environments. It just happened that the two examples XLJ quoted started with the locative phrase. And I didn't realize that that was her response about--starting with "a noun phrase of location".
    On the analysis of 她死了一匹马, Randy LaPolla (2009) proposed in Studies of Chinese Linguistics: Functional Approaches that it is a topic-comment sentence and the verb 'die' is not transitive (http://books.google.ca/books?id=i7w...onepage&q=chinese topic "si le yi pi"&f=false).
    See the following articles for similar analysis:
    他死了父亲 http://books.google.ca/books?id=o1M...t-central expression can also appear"&f=false
    王冕死了父亲 http://books.google.ca/books?id=D3c...BA#v=onepage&q="wangmian si le fuqin"&f=false
    I've also solved the inversion puzzle:
    1) All noun phrases that precede an unaccusative verb must be "specific". 一匹马 is non-specific and thus barred from the pre-verbial position. You were so close, Ghabi, and I knew you were.
    2) 死 inherited syntactic functions from 丧 (http://www.linsci.com/EN/abstract/abstract559.shtml).

    Thank you all for the help. I really appreciate it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2013
  20. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie MOD

    UK
    English (UK)
    You didn't solve anything, Skatinginbc! This is common knowledge to most people with the remotest interest in linguistics and you didn't even have a clue when Ghabi pointed it out for you.

    It's only the most insensitive to issues that want to flaunt their knowledge, Skatinginbc! In this regard, please take note of what I said in post #11 above about wasting everybody's time.

    As you're happy with the result of the discussion, the thread is now closed.
     
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