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Comparative syntax of argument ellipsis in languages without agreement: A case study with Mandarin Chinese

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 October 2018

Seisen University


This paper investigates the cross-linguistic distribution of argument ellipsis (AE) with an emphasis on Chinese, an Asian language well-known for its lack of overt morphological agreement. It is observed in the literature that Japanese permits AE in both null subject and null object positions whereas Chinese permits it in null object positions, but not in null subject positions. Adopting Saito’s (2007) hypothesis that the presence of $\unicode[STIX]{x03C6}$ -feature agreement associated with v or T blocks AE, Miyagawa (2013) and Takahashi (2014) argue that the absence of subject AE in Chinese follows from abstract subject agreement. After presenting three empirical arguments against this analysis from the Chinese literature, I propose that the distribution of AE is better predicted by topichood and link this proposal to Saito’s (2017) recent analysis of AE developed for Japanese, whereby AE, analyzed as LF Copy, cannot apply to an operator–variable configuration. My analysis is supported by the novel observation that the null subject position in Chinese actually allows AE when it is not linked to the topic position, as in hanging topics, relative clauses and conditional clauses.

Research Article
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Various versions of this paper were presented at the 10th GLOW in Asia conference at National Tsing Hua University (May 2014), at the linguistic colloquia held at Tohoku University (September 2014), Niigata University (September 2014), University of British Columbia (October 2014), Sophia University (December 2014), Mie University (December 2014), and Nanzan University (October 2015), at the 4th Cambridge Comparative Syntax Meeting (CamCos 4) at the University of Cambridge (May 2015), as well as at my advanced syntax seminar at the National University of Singapore (Fall 2016). I thank three anonymous Journal of Linguistics referees, Byron Ahn, Zhiming Bao, Mike Barrie, Theresa Biberauer, Rose-Marie Déchaine, Yoshi Dobashi, Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, Naoki Fukui, Kenshi Funakoshi, Nobu Goto, Jim Huang, Ewa Jaworska, Yoshiaki Kaneko, Taka Kato, Shin-Ichi Kitada, Si Kai Lee, Masako Maeda, Shigeru Miyagawa, Keiko Murasugi, Masaru Nakamura, Hiroki Narita, Keely Zuo Qi New, Jian Gang Ngui, Satoshi Oku, Myung-Kwan Park, Matthew Reeve, Mike Rochemont, Yuta Sakamoto, Motoki Sato, Etsuro Shima, Andrew Simpson, Koji Sugisaki, Daiko Takahashi, Kensuke Takita, Martina Wiltschko, and Dwi Hesti Yuliani for invaluable comments and discussions. Special thanks to Mamoru Saito for many useful discussions on argument ellipsis and for warm support since I embarked on this project in 2014. All remaining errors are my own. This research was originally supported by the Singapore Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 1 grant (R-103-000-124-112) for the period of 2015–2018 while I was affiliated with the National University of Singapore before I started working for Seisen University with effect from 1 September 2018. Their support is gratefully acknowledged.

The following abbreviations are used in this paper: 3 $=$ third person; acc $=$ accusative; asp $=$ aspect; clf $=$ classifier; comp $=$ complementizer; cont $=$ continuation; cop $=$ copula; ct $=$ contrastive topic; dat $=$ dative; dec $=$ declension; dem $=$ demonstrative; gen $=$ genitive; inch $=$ inchoative; loc $=$ locative; m $=$ masculine; mod $=$ modification; neg $=$ negation; nom $=$ nominative; pass $=$ passive; pfv $=$ perfective; pol $=$ politeness; prs $=$ present tense; pst $=$ past tense; ptcl $=$ particle; q $=$ question; refl $=$ reflexive; sg $=$ singular; top $=$ topic.


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