Lin (2010) argues that an analysis without a Tense category for Chinese can better explain four syntactic properties of the language than an analysis with it: (a) no copula verb, (b) no expletive subject, (c) possibly no finite vs. nonfinite distinction, and (d) possibly no case-driven A-movement. In this article, we consider data from a variety of languages as well as some Chinese data that Lin does not take into account. We show that there is no principled reason for relating these four properties to syntactic Tense.
Tense is commonly considered to be a semantic notion related to temporal interpretation. A sentence is taken to be in the present (or nonpast) tense if the event it denotes has not run its course, and in the past tense if it has. In many languages of the world, tense is expressed by verbal morphology: for example, the English suffix -s for the present tense as in John lives in Boston, and the suffix -ed for the past tense as in John lived in Boston.
Early work on the position of verbs (e.g., Chomsky 1965) suggested that the verb, its complements, and its modifiers are in VP, and that there is a position outside VP where modals and auxiliary verbs (e.g., will or has) appear, taking the VP following it as complement, as in John will live in Boston or John has lived in Boston. The position was first identified as an Aux position (see Steele et al. 1981) and then as T for Tense (Pollock 1989). In this article, we discuss the position T and refer to it as syntactic T.
An issue that figures prominently in syntactic theory is whether T exists in languages without tense morphology, such as Chinese. The two logical possibilities each have adherents. On the one hand, the universalist view holds that if particular languages are essentially the same, then syntactic structure, regardless of tense morphology, should be the same across languages. Along these lines, languages without tense morphology have syntactic T as well (see Sybesma 2007, Tsai 2008, and Lin 2015 for Chinese). On the other hand, the particularist view holds that syntactic structure in specific languages differs. Languages like English with tense morphology have T while others like Chinese without tense morphology do not (Lin 2003, 2010).1
The debate would not be of much interest if it brought no other facts to light. It is in this context that Lin’s (2010:317–324) claim regarding the syntactic correlates of syntactic T is particularly interesting. Not only does Lin specifically argue that temporal interpretation does not need syntactic T, he also claims that an analysis without T explains four syntactic properties better than one with T: (a) lack of an overt copula, (b) lack of (overt) subject expletives, (c) possible lack of the finite vs. nonfinite distinction, and (d) possible lack of case-driven A-movement. If correct, Lin’s account is significant, for not only would it allow us to resolve the conceptual issue of whether Chinese is like other languages in having T, we would also have empirical evidence that syntactic T is correlated with these four syntactic properties.
In this article, we argue that Lin’s claim about the connection between syntactic T and the four syntactic properties mentioned above is in fact incorrect. The major problem with his analysis is that he does not take some crucial data into account and does not carefully consider certain conceptual issues with syntactic T.
We begin with a brief overview of the relation between temporal interpretation and tense morphology. We show that the relation between the two is not always transparent (section 2). We then present evidence from a variety of languages showing that there is no empirical or conceptual reason for relating syntactic T to the overt copula, overt subject expletives, finiteness, or case-driven A-movement. We argue that on the basis of VP-fronting and VP-ellipsis in Chinese and English, syntactic T exists in Chinese just as it does in English (section 3). In section 4, we offer brief conclusions.
2 Tense Morphology and Temporal Interpretation
Temporal interpretation is not always registered by tense morphology. This point is most obvious in Chinese, for the language has no tense morphology. It is true in English as well, even though the language has tense morphology.
As has been well-known since at least Chao 1968, temporal interpretation in Chinese does not derive from tense morphology. Lin (2010) argues that it can be derived from the telicity property of the predicate. Stative predicates describing permanent properties are interpreted as generic, those describing temporary states are understood as present, and achievement predicates (Vendler 1967) or resultative compounds are understood as describing past telic events (see Lin 2015:325–331 for a different view). For particular data supporting this claim, see Lin 2010: 312–313.
Indeed, tense morphology is not a reliable indicator of temporal interpretation. English has tense morphology for temporal interpretation for many cases, but not for all. The data in (1) show that the past tense form of the verb does not always have past tense interpretation.
John came yesterday/*tomorrow.
If John came tomorrow/*yesterday, Mary would be very happy.
In a main clause, the past tense form of the verb can cooccur with a past temporal adverbial, but not with a future temporal adverbial. But the reverse is true in the antecedent clause of a conditional.2
The same point holds for present (or nonpast) tense morphology. It can be used both for past events and for what is known as historic present in narrative and news reports (Huddleston and Pullum 2002:130–131).
There was I playing so well even I couldn’t believe it and along comes this kid and keeps me off the table for three frames!
UN aid reaches the stricken Bosnian town of Srebrenica.
Clearly, tense morphology is not temporally interpreted in a uniform way.
Now, if temporal interpretation is not always determined by overt tense morphology, then it is not too surprising that the one can be derived without the other. In light of this fact, an issue that arises is to what extent semantic tense correlates with any syntactic properties. Lin (2010) claims that this issue is related to the following four syntactic properties: (a) lack of an overt copula, (b) lack of (overt) subject expletives, (c) possible lack of the finite vs. nonfinite distinction, and (d) possible lack of case-driven A-movement. More specifically, he suggests that certain Chinese facts can be better accounted for if the language has no syntactic T. We argue that data from a variety of languages show that Lin’s suggestion has no empirical basis.
As a reviewer notes, the facts we present here are mostly well-known and easily accessible. However, to our knowledge no one has put them together and brought them to bear on the issue of whether syntactic T is correlated with the four syntactic properties. We argue that it is not. We show that contrary to Lin’s account, an analysis with syntactic T for Chinese can explain some well-known facts that Lin does not take into account.
3 Syntactic Tense and Its Syntactic Consequences
In this section, we argue on the basis of facts in Chinese, Fongbe, Dutch, English, French, Italian, and European Portuguese (EP) that there is no empirical or conceptual reason why syntactic T should be related to an overt copula, an overt subject expletive, the finite vs. nonfinite distinction, or possible lack of A-movement. Contrary to Lin’s (2010) claim, some sort of A-movement exists in Chinese, as can be seen in certain data that Lin does not consider. Most significantly, we show that facts concerning VP-fronting and VP-ellipsis can be explained in an analysis with syntactic T better than in one without.
3.1 Lack of an Overt Copula
The obligatory presence of a semantically vacuous copula in cases like John is a student or She was tired is sometimes taken to be due to some sort of filter against stranded affixes (Lasnik 1981:162). If tense morphology is an affix located in T, then it needs some phonologically overt material to support it and becomes a syntactic dependent, lest the Stranded-Affix Filter be violated. In current terms, one may say that T is associated with some EPP feature (Chomsky 1995) or tense morphology (feature) (Lin 2010:317) that needs to be checked by the verb.3
Now, if a language does not have tense morphology, then there is no tense feature to check. The copula is therefore not required. Lin (2010:318) gives many examples showing that the copula is indeed not required in Chinese: for instance, Jīntiān xīngqǐtiān ‘Today is Sunday (lit. today Sunday)’. According to Lin, it cannot be assumed that cases like this are derived by deletion of the verb shì ‘be’ or yǒu ‘have’, for these cannot be reconstructed in every case.
Lin’s argument is problematic in two respects. First, Lin presents no ungrammatical examples to substantiate his claim. Second, it is problematic to argue that there is no copula verb in Chinese at all on the basis that the verb shì ‘be’ or yǒu ‘have’ cannot be reconstructed in some cases. Lin does not consider many examples like those in (3) (Li and Thompson 1981:148, 150, 155) in which the verb shì ‘be’ or yǒu ‘have’ is obligatory.4
Shéi *(shì) Zhāngsān?
who be Zhangsan
‘Who is Zhangsan?’
Tā yīnggāi *(shì) yì-ge zhēxuéjiā.
3SG should be one-CL philosopher
‘He/She should be a philosopher.’
Wǒ zùi xǐhuān de *(shì) Shànghái cài.
1SG most like DE be Shanghai dish
‘What I like the most is Shanghai food.’
Bīngxiāng lǐ *( yǒu) níunǎi.
fridge in have milk
‘There’s milk in the fridge.’
Zhí *( yǒu) liǎng-ge lǎoshī.
only have two-CL teacher
‘There are only two teachers.’
Clearly we cannot deny the existence of the verbs shì and yǒu on the basis of their absence in some cases. To the extent that the copular shì or yǒu must occur in (3)–(4), there is no reason to suppose that they appear in a different position from that for be in English. If be occurs in T in English, then so do shì and yǒu in Chinese. This implies that Chinese has T just as English does.
Empirically, facts from Fongbe, spoken in Benin, show that there is no connection between syntactic T and the (overt) copula. Fongbe has no tense morphology (Lefebvre and Brousseau 2002:85), as is common in Gbe languages (Aboh 2004:32). The temporal interpretation of the sentence derives from the aspectual property of the verb. A sentence is interpreted as present if the verb is a state verb, and as past if it is an activity verb (Lefebvre and Brousseau 2002:86–87).
Yet the copula is obligatory. There are two copulas in Fongbe: nyí ‘be’ and ɖò ‘be at’.5 The former is used with nominal predicates, the latter with predicate adjectives and locative phrases. Importantly, in all these cases the presence of the copula is mandatory, as illustrated in (6).
If overt subjects are located in Spec,TP, then T must project in (6) so that there is a Spec,TP position to host the subject. The copula nyí ‘be’ or ɖò ‘be at’ can then occur in T, just like the copula be in English.
3.2 Lack of (Overt) Subject Expletives
Lin (2010:318) asserts that a T head correlates with the requirement that all clauses have a subject, a property known as the Extended Projection Principle (EPP) feature (Rothstein 1983). In Chomsky’s (1995) terms, the EPP feature in Spec,TP needs to be checked. If T is absent, then there is no EPP feature to check, hence no need for an overt subject expletive.
Chinese has no overt subject expletives (see Lin 2010:319 for examples). According to Lin, the lack of subject expletives in Chinese straightforwardly follows from the absence of the T position for them. Lin’s reasoning, albeit logical, is empirically incorrect, insofar as the presence of syntactic T does not necessarily imply the presence of overt subject expletives, and the lack of syntactic T does not necessarily imply the lack of overt subject expletives.
Subject expletives are quite rare among the world’s languages. English and other Germanic languages like Dutch are a bit unusual in having two subject expletives (it and there in English and het ‘it’ and er ‘there’ in Dutch). Even among genetically closely related languages that clearly have tense morphology, not all have subject expletives. For instance, in the Romance languages, French has the subject expletive il (see (7) from French), but Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian do not have any (see (8) from Italian).
‘It is raining.’
Il y a une mouche dans ma soupe.
it there have.3SG a fly in my soup
‘There is a fly in my soup.’
‘It is raining.’
Non c’è una mosca nella mia minestra.
not there-be.3SG a fly in.the my soup
‘There is not a fly in my soup.’
From the comparative syntax point of view, Fongbe is again of special interest. Despite being like Chinese in having no tense morphology, Fongbe has an overt subject expletive, é, which occurs in the same position as the thematic subject (Lefebvre and Brousseau 2002:276–277).
É ɖò nu ɖébú à.
3SG be thing one NEG
‘There is no problem.’
Nyìbú ɖò è à? Éὲn, é ɖò è.
cow be 3SGQ yes 3SG at 3SG
‘Are there cows? Yes, there are.’
Since the overt subject expletive é occurs in the same position as the thematic subject, there must be a T projecting a Spec,TP position for it to occupy.
It is evident from the data in this section that a language (e.g., Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, or Romanian) may have tense morphology and syntactic T and yet lack overt subject expletives; as well, a language (e.g., Fongbe) may lack tense morphology but may well have overt subject expletives and syntactic T.
3.3 Possible Lack of the Finite vs. Nonfinite Distinction
Finiteness is traditionally taken to be a morphological feature (see Nikolaeva 2007:1 and the references therein). If expression of tense is part of the finiteness morphology associated with T, then the lack of the finite vs. nonfinite distinction in Chinese can be attributed to the language’s not having a T head, Lin (2010:320) suggests. He argues that all the tests used to identify such a distinction have been shown to be invalid. In particular, according to Lin, certain facts regarding the modal auxiliary hùi ‘will’ (see Huang 1982, Li 1985, 1990, Tang 1990) and the subject of a control complement do not in fact support the idea that Chinese has the finite vs. nonfinite distinction (see Tang 2000, Hu, Pan, and Xu 2001, and Lin 2011 for discussion of the controversy regarding finiteness in Chinese).
Lin’s arguments are problematic, however, for the finite vs. nonfiniteness distinction has no bearing on syntactic T. As can be seen in EP and English, the T position may host a nonfinite verb as well as a finite one. If this is correct, then syntactic T is not inherently incompatible with a nonfinite verb.
In EP, the verb in the clausal complement of certain predicates must be in the infinitival form, optionally with plural morphology when the subject is plural (examples adapted from Perini 2002:498).
Muitos turistas traz-em matulas para [com-er/com-er-em/*com-em na many tourists bring-3PL provisions for eat-INF/eat-INF-3PL/ eat-PL during viagem].
‘Many tourists bring provisions to eat during the trip.’
Muitos turistas com-em matulas na viagem.
many tourists eat-3PL provisions during trip
‘Many tourists eat during the trip.’
The finite form of the verb, possible in the main clause (see (11b)), cannot appear in the clausal complement (see (11a)). Complements of this sort, known as inflected infinitives (see Raposo 1987), are plausibly nonfinite. Given that the nonfinite verb and the finite one bear the same plural morphology, it is plausible that they appear in the same position. If that position is T in (11b), then it should be T in (11a) as well.
John is not happy.
*John not is happy.
Not to be happy is a prerequisite for writing novels.
?To be not happy is a prerequisite for writing novels.
If the position before negation is T, then T can host the auxiliary verb regardless of whether it is finite or nonfinite.
In fact, the finite vs. nonfinite distinction is not necessarily related to verbal morphology. The distinction can be seen in the distribution of overt subjects. In Fongbe, the complement clause to the verb jló ‘want’ headed by the complementizer nú must have an overt subject, while the one headed by the complementizer ná must have a null subject.7
É jló nú *(é) ní yì.
3SG[+nom] want COMP 3SGSUB leave
‘He/She wants him/her to leave.’
É jló ná (*é) (*ní) yì.
3SG[+nom] want COMP 3SGSUB leave
‘He/She wants to leave.’
In both (14a) and (14b), the verb is formally invariant. We thus cannot tell on the basis of verbal morphology whether the embedded clause is finite or nonfinite. However, the obligatory presence of an overt subject in (14a) and the obligatory absence thereof in (14b) is clear evidence that the embedded clause in the former is finite while the one in the latter is nonfinite.8 The verb jló ‘want’ in Fongbe is much like the English verb hope in that it may take either a finite or a nonfinite clausal complement.
3.4 Possible Lack of Case-Driven A-Movement
The connection between EPP-driven A-movement and T appears quite natural. If the projection of T provides a specifier position associated with an EPP feature, then lack of this feature, a consequence of the absence of T, would render A-movement impossible (see also Ritter and Wiltschko 2009).
Two quintessential cases of EPP-driven A-movement are passive and raising. In this section, we will consider Lin’s (2010:323) claim that Chinese lacks A-movement and hence has no syntactic T. Looking at some data on (a kind of) passive, raising, and unaccusative verbs that Lin does not address, we argue that Chinese in fact has some A-movement. We then strengthen our argument with certain facts from Fongbe.
The structure in (15b) is more like the tough-construction with a null operator (NOP) than like passive in English. The derivation in (15b) is unlike case-driven A-movement passive in English. Lin (2010:323) attributes the different structure for passive in Chinese to the lack of the Spec,TP position where case is assigned, a consequence of absence of syntactic T.
With respect to raising, Lin (2010:323–324) argues that what looks like raising in Chinese is not derived by A-movement. He considers examples with the predicate hǎoxiàng ‘seem’ and kěnéng ‘likely’, arguing that the A-movement analysis for these examples is problematic. For reasons of space, we will not review the details here, for even if they were correct, the conclusion that there is no A-movement in Chinese at all would not be warranted. We now present three kinds of data from Chinese that Lin does not consider, as evidence that A-movement exists in Chinese to some extent. As well, data from Fongbe show that A-movement may exist in a language with no tense morphology.
First, Huang (2013) suggests that Chinese passives can be given either a control analysis with an NOP as in (15b) or a raising analysis in which the subject is raised from an embedded clause.10 The most compelling evidence for the raising analysis comes from cases in which a part of an idiom is in subject position. As shown in (16), níu ‘cow’, part of the idiom chūi níu ‘to bluff’, can be raised to the matrix subject position.
Tā yì-ge rén zài chūi níu/*māo.
3SG one-CL person PROG blow cow/cat
‘He/She is bluffing.’
Níui /*Māoi bèi (tā yì-ge rén) chūi ti guàng le.
cow/cat BEI 3SG one-CL person blow finished PERF
‘All the bluffing was done (by him/her single-handedly).’
It is difficult to see how the idiosyncratic restriction on the syntactic object of chūi ‘blow’ in (16b) should hold, if the idiom chunk níu ‘cow’ does not originate in object position.
That the idiom chunk níu in (16b) is A-moved to subject position is further supported by the contrast in (17), where it clearly occupies an Ā-position (we thank a reviewer for bringing these examples to our attention).
Níuk bèi Zhāngsān bǎ tāk kǎn chéng-le liǎng bàn.
cow BEI Zhangsan BA it chop into-PERF two halves
‘The cow was chopped in halves by Zhangsan.’
*Níuk bèi Zhāngsān bǎ tāk chūi guàng le.
cow BEI Zhangsan BA it blow finish PERF
‘All the bluffing was done by Zhangsan.’
Second, Lin’s objections to the A-movement analysis for raising are unwarranted. From the fact that hǎoxiàng ‘seem’ is an adverb, not a verb, one cannot conclude that Chinese lacks A-movement, any more than one can conclude from the fact that English apparently is an adverb and not a verb that English lacks A-movement.
Third, contrary to Lin’s claim, there is evidence that kěnéng ‘likely’ is a raising predicate. As Lin (2011:56) points out, it can be used as a main predicate (the glosses and translation are original).
Nà-jiān shì shì kěnéng de.
that-CL matter be likely MOD
‘That thing is possible.’
Lin and Tang (1995) also give some other reasons for taking kěnéng to be a raising modal.
Moreover, certain facts about relative clauses show that kěnéng ‘likely’ is a raising predicate, much like English likely. Given the fact exemplified in (18), it is conceivable that the bracketed relative clause in (19a) has the structure in which kěnéng ‘likely’ takes a clausal complement, and that the one in (19b) is derived by raising the embedded subject to the matrix clause.11
Wángwǔ rènshí [kěnéng [Lǐsì jiào guò ti] de] nèige réni .
Wangwu know likely Lisi teach EXPDE that person
‘Wangwu knows the person who it was likely that Lisi has taught.’
Wángwǔ rènshí [Lǐsìj kěnéng [tj jiào guò ti] de] nèige réni.
Wangwu know Lisi likely teach EXPDE that person
‘Wangwu knows the person who Lisi was likely to have taught.’
As shown in (20), topicalization of an embedded subject to an Ā-position is possible in a complement clause, but not in a relative clause.
Wángwǔ shūo [Lǐsìi , Zhāngsān rènwéi ti hěn xǐhuān Dìnglìu].
Wangwu say Lisi Zhangsan believe very like Dingliu
‘Wangwu said that Lisi, Zhangsan believes likes Dingliu a lot.’
*Wángwǔ rènshí [Lǐsìj , Zhāngsān rènwéi tj hěn xǐhuān ti de] nèige réni].
Wangwu believe Lisi Zhangsan believes very like DE that person
‘Wangwu knows the person who Lisi, Zhangsan believes likes a lot.’
Therefore, it cannot be that Lǐsì in (19b) is topicalized to an Ā-position as it is in (20a); rather, it is moved to an A-position. In fact, the same contrast holds in English as well (compare John knows the person whoi Billj seemed tj to have taught ti with *John knows the person whoi Billj it seemed tj has taught ti ).12
Finally, word order with unaccusative verbs (Perlmutter 1978, Burzio 1986) also shows that A-movement exists in Chinese. The sole (internal) argument of these verbs, in contrast to that of the unergative verbs, may occur in its base position or in subject position.13
Lái-le jǐ-ge lǎoshī.
come-PERF several-CL teacher
‘There came several teachers.’
Jǐ-ge lǎoshīi lái-le ti.
several-CL teacher come-PERF
‘Several teachers came.’
*Xiào-le jǐ-ge lǎoshī.
laugh-PERF several-CL teacher
‘There laughed several teachers.’
Jǐ-ge lǎoshī xiào-le.
several-CL teacher laugh-PERF
‘Several teachers laughed.’
Movement of the sort in (21b) cannot be Ā-movement to a topic position; instead, it must be A-movement to subject position, since weak quantifiers like jǐge lǎoshī ‘several teachers’ cannot be topicalized.
Wŏ bāng-le jǐ-ge lǎoshī.
1SG help-PERF several-CL teacher
‘I helped several teachers.’
*Jǐ-ge lǎoshīi wǒ bāng-le ti.
several-CL teacher 1SG help-PERF
‘Several teachers, I helped.’
Clearly, some sort of A-movement exists in Chinese.
Passive and raising in Fongbe again offer an interesting comparative syntax perspective. They show that A-movement may well exist in a language without tense morphology. In passive, the verb is reduplicated and preceded by the copula nyí (Brousseau 1998).
Bayi gbà zὲn (kpódo jló kpó).
Bayi break vase with intention
with ‘Bayi broke a vase intentionally.’
Zὲni nyí gbìgbá ti (kpódo jló kpó).
vase be break with intention with
‘A vase was broken intentionally.’
*(É) nyí gbìgbá zὲn (kpódo jló kpó).
3SG be break vase with intention with
‘There was a vase broken intentionally.’
The possible appearance of the Agent-oriented adverbial kpódo jló kpó ‘intentionally’ in (24b) shows that the example is more like passive than middle (Brousseau 1998:131). Like its counterpart in English, the logical object of the passive in Fongbe cannot remain in its base position, whether or not there is an overt subject expletive (see (24c)).
A-movement to the subject position of unaccusative verbs exists in Fongbe as well. As shown in (25)–(26), the argument of the unaccusative verbs kpò ‘remain’ and hwὲ ‘lack’ can either stay in its base position or raise to subject position (Dumais 1988, cited in Lefebvre and Brousseau 2002:278).14
It is clear that Fongbe has A-movement even though its verbs lack tense morphology.
In sum, the data considered in this section show that Chinese has A-movement to some extent, and that A-movement is generally possible in a language without tense morphology.
3.5 VP-Fronting, VP-Ellipsis, and Syntactic T
Above, we showed that there is no systematic relation between morphologically overt syntactic T and four syntactic properties: (a) lack of an overt copula, (b) lack of (overt) subject expletives, (c) possible lack of the finite vs. nonfinite distinction, and (d) possible lack of case-driven A-movement. In this section, we consider the syntactic similarities between English and Chinese with regard to VP-fronting and VP-ellipsis, an area that Lin (2010) also does not address. We argue that the similarities between the two languages warrant the same syntactic structure. Specifically, if modals occur in T in English, licensing VP-fronting and VP-ellipsis, then the same should be true of Chinese. In other words, T exists in Chinese just as it does in English.
It is well-known that a VP may be fronted or elided in English only if it is preceded by a modal or auxiliary verb (Sag 1976, Williams 1977, Lobeck 1987). Chinese is not any different. A VP can be fronted or elided only if it is preceded by an auxiliary verb like hùi ‘will’ or a modal like kéyǐ ‘may’.
Zhāngsān hùi [pīpǐng Lǐsì], [pīpǐng Wǎngwǔ]i tā bú yīdìng hùi ti.
Zhangsan will criticize Lisi criticize Wangwu he not definitely will
‘Zhangsan will criticize Lisi, but criticize Wangwu, he will not necessarily.’
*Zhāngsān hùi [pīpǐng Lǐsì], [hùi pīpǐng Wǎngwǔ]i tā bú yīdìng ti.
Zhāngsān bú kéyǐ [bāngmáng Lǐsì], dānshì Wǎngwǔ kéyǐ
Zhangsan not may help Lisi but Wangwu may help Lisi
‘Zhangsan may not help Lisi, but Wangwu may.’
*Zhāngsān bú kéyǐ [bāngmáng Lǐsì], dānshì Wǎngwǔ ____
kéyǐ bāngmáng Lǐsì.
Clearly, the schema for VP-fronting and VP-ellipsis is the same in Chinese and English, as shown in (29), where X is the position where the auxiliary verb or modal appears.
VPi . . . *(X) ti
. . . *(X)
Arguing that syntactic T does not exist in Chinese, Lin (2010:317) calls X Asp. But this is no more than relabeling, explaining very little. We see no reason why this category in Chinese should be any different from that in English. If it is T in English, then it is also T in Chinese. Given its independence from verbal morphology (see section 2), syntactic T is not necessarily related to tense (or finiteness) morphology on the verb. Languages may vary with respect to whether these features have morphological expression.
In this way, we can account for both the similarities and the differences between Chinese and English. Clause structure in the two languages is essentially the same, with syntactic T. VP-fronting and VP-ellipsis are licensed by a modal or an auxiliary verb in T in both Chinese and English. Moreover, with syntactic T, the subject in both languages would occur in the same place, namely, Spec,TP. With Spec,TP, we have a position for A-movement. Chinese differs from English in that T has no morphological expression.
Contrary to Lin’s claim, there is in fact some advantage in positing T in Chinese, despite the language’s lack of verbal morphology.
In the foregoing sections, we have taken a comparative syntax perspective on the analysis of syntactic T. We have argued that there is no principled reason for relating syntactic T to the overt copula, overt subject expletives, and the finite vs. nonfinite distinction. Particular languages may have some though not necessarily all of these grammatical properties.
To the extent that particular languages are partially similar, syntactic structures for those similarities should be the same. From this perspective, Chinese has syntactic T just as English does, for it explains why the two languages are similar with respect to VP-fronting and VP-ellipsis. This is in spite of their difference in morphological expression in T.
The confusion surrounding the issue of syntactic T in a language without tense morphology is now clarified. Comparative syntax thus offers an insightful perspective without which issues in particular languages cannot be resolved.
Parts of this article have been presented at City University of Hong Kong, Zhejiang University, the Beijing Institute of Technology, and the fifth Research Frontier Workshop in Syntax and Semantics of Modern Chinese at Peking University. We would like to thank participants at these events, particularly Daogen Cao, Jinglian Li, Jo-Wang Lin, Luther Chen-Sheng Liu, Haihua Pan, and Dylan Tsai, for helpful comments and suggestions. We are also grateful to our Fongbe consultants Aimee Avolonto and Hervé A. Kpoffon for sharing their intuitions as well as to two reviewers for very constructive criticisms of an earlier version of the article. Any inadequacy that remains is our responsibility.
Abbreviations used in this article: CL = classifier, COMP = complementizer, DEF = definite, EXP = experiential, FUT = future, INF = infinitive, MOD = modifier, NEG = negative, NOM = nominative, OBJ = objective, PERF = perfective, PL = plural, PROG = progressive, Q = question, SG = singular, SUB = subjunctive.
1 For the former view, see Matthewson 2006, Guéron 2007, Stowell 2007, and Demirdache and Uribe-Extebarria 2008, and for the latter, see Ogihara 1996, Klein, Li, and Hendriks 2000, Lin 2003, Shaer 2003, Smith and Erbaugh 2005, and Bittner 2008, among many others. As the primary concern of this article is comparative syntax, we will not go into the details of the semantics of tense, in particular, the different tense systems (e.g., the past vs. nonpast system such as that in Chinese or the future vs. nonfuture system such as that in Kwa languages (Aboh 2004)).
2 A reviewer draws our attention to Iatridou’s (2000) work, according to which the past tense form of the verb is taken to mean ‘not here and now’. This would explain why it can occur in sentences interpreted as past or hypothetical events. We cannot go into various issues for this view here—for example, why (1a) without yesterday cannot be understood to be just any moment that is not here and now (e.g., future). The point is nevertheless clear that one cannot always rely exclusively on tense morphology on the verb for temporal interpretation.
3 The examples in (i) are problematic for the Stranded-Affix Filter; the copula be must occur even though there is no affix needing its support.
Mary let [TP it *(be) known that she will be strict with the students].
[CP For [TP there *(to be) a riot is undesirable]].
Just *(be) yourself when you go into the interview!
The occurrence of the subject shows—most clearly in (ia–b)—that there is a T projecting the Spec,TP position for the subject.
5 Fongbe is among the few languages that have two copulas. Spanish and Portuguese also have two (estar and ser). We thank a reviewer for reminding us of this point.
6 As the reviewers point out, null subjects in different languages may be licensed in different ways. In the Italian type of language, null subjects are licensed by verbal morphology (Rizzi 1982), while null subjects in Chinese, a language without verbal morphology, are licensed through discourse construals such as generalized control, as part of a more general pattern of argument drop (see Huang 1989; and see Xu 1986 for the view that the Chinese null subject is a null pronoun pro). The lack of an overt subject expletive may also be due to syntactic configurations (see Vikner 1995:185 and Sells 2007:76–81 for examples in Germanic languages).
7 The future marker ná is possible in the complement clause headed by the complementizer ɖ
À ɖì ɖ
2SG think COMP 1SGFUT come
‘You think that I will come.’
1SG want COMP 3SGFUT come
‘I want him/her to come.’
Nú in (14a) and (ib) is not the future marker, for it appears to the left of the embedded subject. It is plausibly a complementizer occurring in the same position as ɖ14b) is conceivably morphosyntactically conditioned by the null subject. Aboh (2004) argues that ná in Gungbe is also a complementizer in certain cases.
É jló è/*é yì.
3SG[+nom] want 3SG[+nom]/3SG[+nom] leave
‘He/She wants him/her to leave.’ not ‘He/She wants to leave.’
One might thus conclude that the complement clause in (14a) is finite with a nominative subject, and the one in (i) is nonfinite with a nonnominative subject. Unfortunately, we could not replicate the same judgment with our consultants. We therefore leave this case aside.
9 Passive of the type in (15a) has the following characteristics: (a) the embedded subject position is thematic; (b) the embedded subject may be modified by a subject-oriented adverb; (c) bèi and the Agent that follows it do not form a constituent, in contrast to the by-phrase in English; (d) the matrix subject and the predicate in the embedded complement may be related across a clausal boundary; (e) the dependency is island-sensitive; and (f ) a resumptive pronoun in the complement related to the matrix subject is possible (see Huang 1999).
10 A consequence of Huang’s (2013) analysis is that the predicate bèi is either thematic or nonthematic, much like English threaten.
Johni threatened [PROi to resign].
Iti threatened [ti to rain].
An important issue that we are not able to address here is why Chinese does not or cannot always have passive with A-movement of the English type. It is nevertheless clear that the lack of English-type passive in some cases does not necessarily mean that the language has no A-movement at all.
Wŏ rènshí [kèběnkti sòng-le Lǐsì tk de] nàge xuéshēngi].
1SG know textbook give-PERF Lisi DE that student
‘I know that student who gave Lisi the textbook.’
This supports the idea that Lǐsì in (19b) is moved to an A-position. We thank the reviewer for bringing example (i) to our attention.