The Grammaticalization of Shi in Chinese: From a Demonstrative Pronoun to a Copula

Fangqiong Zhan, Ph.D. Candidate, EALC,Stanford University

Talk given in Chinese.

This paper is a historical study of the formation of Chinese copula verb shi. It is generally believed that the copular sentence, a specific type of declarative sentence that indicates definition or speaker’s judgment and is traditionally termed as ‘panduan ju’ in Chinese linguistic literature, did not contain the copula verb in Old Chinese (c.a. 500 B.C.E.- 200 C.E. according to Sun 1996). Many scholars (Wang 1937, Feng 1993, Pulleyblank 1995, Li and Shi 2001 etc.) note that the copula shi originated and developed from a demonstrative pronominal form from the topic-comment construction (Li and Thompson 1981) in Old Chinese. Feng (1993) further claims that there was a pause between the topic and comment in the topic-comment construction in early Old Chinese, the demonstrative pronoun shi ‘evolved into the copula shi because of the weakening of the function as the demonstrative pronoun and the lack of necessity for the pause.’ This paper, however, argues that in light of Hopper and Traugott’s theory of reanalysis and analogy (2003), the demonstrative pronoun shi evolving into the copula shi is the result of reanalysis of the topic-comment structure: [[(XP)]s[[shi] [XP]ye]], and a process of analogy, modeling after the structure of the pro-verb wei ‘to be’: s[[(XP)] vp[[wei] [XP]]] in Old Chinese. The trajectory of the development can be schematized as:

 [[(XP)]s[np[shi] [XP] ye]]>s[[(XP)]vp[v[shi][XP]]ye]>s[[(NP)]vp[v[shi][NP]]]

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 | 5:30 pm — 7:00 pm
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Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures