East Asian Linguistics Workshop: Revisiting Locative ZAI Expressions in Modern Standard Chinese: The Role of Internal Location

Dr. Shiao Wei Tham (Associate Professor, National University of Singapore)
Thu December 7th 2023, 4:30 - 6:00pm
Event Sponsor
East Asian Linguistics Workshop
East Asia Library, Room 224
Tham Shiao Wei Event Poster


Locative expressions headed by the morpheme ZAI ‘be at’ in Modern Standard Chinese (MSC) ) (e.g. zai zhuozi-shang ‘be at table-upon, i.e. “on the table”) may occur either before or after the verb, with post-verbal position being closely associated with goal interpretations. Consensus about how goal interpretations of ZAI arise remains elusive, however, with even fundamental questions about the acceptability of ZAI in different positions often still unclear. This talk re-examines the distribution and interpretation of locative ZAI expressions in MSC, presenting novel data from corpora and an online speaker survey to distinguish between four positions in the clause in which a ZAI locative may occur, and their different grammatical functions, highlighting in particular the relevance of internal locatives (Maienborn 2001), which may occur in both pre- and post-verbal position. I argue that internal ZAI locatives straddle the divide between argument and adjunct, corresponding to modification pre-verbally, and to complex predication post-verbally. I show that this analysis accounts for two characteristics of goal interpretations of ZAI that are not entailed or strongly implicated by the verb: first, they are available only immediately after the verb (as a secondary predicate), and second, these goal interpretations are not consistently available, requiring contextual facilitation.


Tham Shiao Wei (PhD in Linguistics, Stanford University) is Associate Professor in the Department of Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore. Her research interests lie mainly in lexical semantics and its effects on sentence structure, with a focus on Mandarin Chinese. Topics she has worked on include the encoding of motion events and change of state encoding (in Mandarin and other languages), as well as resultatives and accomplishment verbs in Mandarin.


If you are interested in this talk, please complete this Google form, or email me at ikedot [at] stanford.edu (ikedot[at]stanford[dot]edu) to sign up by 11:59pm (Pacific) on Monday, December 4.