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Local versus long-distance bound implicit arguments of inalienable relational nouns in Chinese

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 July 2021

Department of Linguistics, Languages, and Cultures, Michigan State University, B-230 Wells Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
Department of Linguistics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 458 Lorch Hall, 611 Tappan Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109–1220, USA
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This paper argues that inalienable relational nouns in Mandarin Chinese, specifically kinship nouns (KNs, e.g. father, sister) and body-part nouns (BPNs, e.g. head, face), have an implicit reflexive argument. Based on a syntactic comparison between KNs, BPNs, locally and long-distance bound reflexives, we argue that the implicit reflexive arguments of BPNs must be locally bound, whereas that of KNs can either be locally or long-distance bound. We conclude that these two types of implicit arguments in Mandarin Chinese correspond to locally and long-distance bound reflexives, respectively. We analyze this difference in connection with binding theory and a theory of logophoricity. We argue that the implicit argument of BPNs is a locally bound anaphor and cannot be used as a logophor, whereas that of KNs can, supporting a proposal that the logophoric property leads to long-distance binding, as argued by Huang & Liu’s (2001) for reflexives in Mandarin Chinese.

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1. Introduction

In Mandarin Chinese (henceforth, Chinese), inalienable relational nouns (henceforth inalienable RNs), including kinship nouns (KNs, e.g. father, aunt) and body part nouns (BPNs, e.g. head, face), can generally occur as bare nouns without an overt possessor. While (1) below shows that the possessive argument of the KN son must be phonologically overt in English,Footnote 2 otherwise the sentence is ungrammatical, (2a) indicates that bare RNs in Chinese are completely acceptable. Importantly, the interpretation of the sentence with a bare RN, i.e. (2a), is different from that with an overt pronominal possessor, seen in (2b). That is, the bare RN in (2a) must refer to Mary’s son, whereas the pronominal possessor can refer either to Mary or to any other person salient in the context.

A main question we address in this paper is why in (2a) erzi ‘son’ must be Mary’s son but not someone else’s son, even if another possible possessor is salient in the context. (Considering the controversial status of de, ba, and bei, which is not directly relevant to this paper, we take a neutral position and do not gloss them in the examples. For the purposes of the present paper, it suffices to say that de is, roughly, a possessive marker in all the examples discussed here, ba is a head indicating that the following nominal is affected or manipulated in a certain way, and bei is generally a passive marker.)

If we assume that bare inalienable RNs such as KNs and BPNs have an implicit argument – a widely held assumption ( Partee Reference Partee, van Benthem and Meulen1983/1997, Barker Reference Barker1995, Vikner & Jensen Reference Vikner and Jensen2002, Partee & Borschev Reference Partee, Borschev, Lang, Maienborn and Fabricius-Hansen2003, Zhang Reference Zhang2009) – several questions arise and we address them in this paper: What is the syntactic nature of this implicit argument in Mandarin Chinese? Is it a reflexive or a non-reflexive pronoun regarding its binding properties, considering how it relates to a particular antecedent and not others in different instances including (2)? Moreover, do KNs and BPNs bear the same type of implicit argument?

At first glance, a reasonable hypothesis is that inalienable RNs have a pronominal argument which refers to the possessor. This hypothesis is intuitive because when the possessor of an RN is overtly realized in examples parallel to (2), it is usually a possessive pronoun, as it is the case in the English counterpart (1).

However, this paper provides evidence that the implicit argument of inalienable RNs must be a syntactically projected reflexive rather than a non-reflexive pronoun. Furthermore, a comparison of the implicit argument of KNs and BPNs to the monomorphemic/simple reflexive ziji ‘self’ and polymorphemic/complex reflexive taziji ‘himself/herself’ leads us to make a distinction between KNs and BPNs. We provide extensive evidence that the syntactic nature of their implicit arguments differs: the implicit argument of BPNs must be locally bound, whereas that of KNs can either be locally bound or long-distance bound. Finally, we will provide evidence that the long-distance bound implicit argument of KNs shows logophoric properties.

Given our extensive focus on this contrast, in what follows we use the term reflexive to refer to (overt or implicit) reflexives that are either locally or long-distance bound. We will also use the term anaphor in reference to locally-bound anaphors/reflexives. Finally, our use of the term pronoun will make reference to non-reflexive pronouns that do not have to be bound.Footnote 4

In this paper, we will restrict our discussion to two types of inalienable possession RNs – KNs and BPNs – and leave other types of RNs for future research.

This paper is organized as follows. Section 2 presents a literature review on the inalienable implicit/null argument of RNs in general and in Chinese in particular. In Section 3, we argue that the inalienable null argument of Chinese RNs is a reflexive that is syntactically projected. We then present several pieces of evidence for an important contrast between the null arguments of two types of RNs: the null argument of BPNs must be locally bound, whereas the null argument of KNs can be either locally or long-distance bound. Section 4 discusses several reasons why such a contrast exists and relates long-distance binding to the logophoric properties of the null argument of KNs. Section 5 provides three possible explanations for the binding and logophoric differences between BPNs and KNs. Finally, Section 6 concludes the paper.

2. Literature review

2.1 Inalienability and implicit arguments of RNs

We define RNs strictly as nouns which have an extra possessor argument. In other words, the relational meaning comes from RNs’ lexical meaning (Barker Reference Barker1995). This type of RNs is called inherent RNs in Partee’s terminology (Partee & Borschev Reference Partee, Borschev, Lang, Maienborn and Fabricius-Hansen2003, Partee Reference Partee2004, but see Asudeh Reference Asudeh2005 for a broader definition). This is because this type of RNs have in their lexical meaning an inherent (implicit) argument, from which the RNs obtain their reference.

Regarding the semantic and syntactic representation of the implicit argument of RNs, previous studies in formal semantics agree that the implicit argument of RNs in general should be a pronominal variable, although it is still under debate whether this implicit argument is syntactically projected. One line of research including Partee (Reference Partee, van Benthem and Meulen1983/1997) proposes an ‘inherent R’ to connect the implicit argument of RNs with another entity in the context (see also Vikner & Jensen Reference Vikner and Jensen2002 and Asudeh Reference Asudeh2005). This inherent R can connect the implicit argument to an entity salient in the context, which suggests that the implicit argument is pronominal. In that approach, this pronominal argument is not syntactically projected, but is instead only a semantic variable. Another line of research, including Stanley (Reference Stanley2000, Reference Stanley2002, Reference Stanley2004), Stanley & Szabó (Reference Stanley and Szabó2000) and Martí (Reference Martí2006, Reference Martí2015), maintains the semantic-approach view that the implicit argument of an RN can link or refer to a salient entity in the context, but argues that this implicit arguments must be syntactically projected. In Stanley’s (Reference Stanley2000, Reference Stanley2002, Reference Stanley2004) approach, as long as an implicit argument has an effect on the truth-condition of an assertion, the argument must be present at LF, which is the ‘real structure’ of the assertion. Given that LF is where syntactic structures are interpreted, it follows that if an implicit argument has an effect on the truth-conditions of an assertion, it must also be present in the syntactic structure.

However, the syntactic presence of the implicit argument of inalienable RNs (primarily BPNs and KNs, and sometimes part–whole relations) is less controversial in previous studies. A wide range of studies on inalienable nouns across languages share the conclusion that inalienable nouns are associated with a syntactically present inalienable possessor as their inherent implicit argument (e.g. Alexiadou Reference Alexiadou and Coene2003 for Greek; Ritter & Rosen Reference Ritter and Rosen2014 for Blackfoot; Huang, Li & Li Reference Huang, Li and Li2009 and Niu Reference Niu2016, among other studies that we return to in the next section, for Mandarin Chinese; and Guéron Reference Guéron, Guéron, Obenauer and Pollock1985, Reference Guéron and Coene2003, Vergnaud & Zubizarreta Reference Vergnaud and Zubizarreta1992, and Nakamoto Reference Nakamoto2010, for French; see Chappell & McGregory Reference Chappell and McGregory1996 and Coene & D’hulst Reference Coene and D’hulst2003 for various other languages).

Body-part terms in French can be used without an explicit local possessor directly attached to them. Guéron (Reference Guéron, Guéron, Obenauer and Pollock1985) argues that the syntactic constraints on inalienable BPNs in French, as listed in (3), are essentially the same as those on anaphoric binding.

We will show in this paper that bare inalienable RNs in Chinese have similar properties regarding the requirement for a c-commanding possessor, although BPNs and KNs in Chinese split into two classes regarding their partially distinct locality requirements for this possessor antecedent.

2.2 Chinese inalienable RNs

It has been noted that inalienable RNs can occur in some special constructions in Chinese. Chappell (Reference Chappell, Chappell and McGregor1996) discusses RNs in so called ‘double subject constructions’, exemplified in (4) (the structure projections are added by us).

The observation is that inside VP1 there is another ‘subject’ argument in addition to the regular subject ta ‘s/he’. Importantly, the third person singular pronoun ta and the BPN yanjing ‘eye’ must be in an inalienable possession relation, that is, the eye must be hers/his, whoever the pronoun ta ‘s/he’ refers to, and not someone else’s.

Notice that the two subjects are not necessarily adjacent to each other, as shown in (5a).

In fact, the possessor can be implicit, linking to a referent established in the previous clause (5b), a possibility that we will address in our final discussion, after laying out our analysis of inalienable RNs. Therefore, Chappell (Reference Chappell, Chappell and McGregor1996) suggests that the implicit possessor in such cases is a zero anaphor. Her corpus analysis further suggests that it must refer to an element within two clauses in the preceding context.

Cheng & Ritter (Reference Cheng and Ritter1987: 72) provide an analysis for another type of inalienable possession construction, as in (6a), with the corresponding syntactic structure shown in (6b).

Cheng & Ritter (Reference Cheng and Ritter1987) assume that an empty anaphor, e in (6b), is projected inside the complex nominal NP1 and is bound by the complement of ba, juzi ‘orange’. Cheng & Ritter (Reference Cheng and Ritter1987) also assume that ba is a preposition that assigns the theta-role of affected theme to its complement. This complement ‘weak[ly] c-commands’ the anaphor since the node immediately dominating it c-commands the anaphor (Huang Reference Huang1982: 373). Although they provide no details regarding how the inalienable possessive relation comes into place between the null anaphor and the BPN pi ‘skin’, Cheng & Ritter (Reference Cheng and Ritter1987) seem to consider the null anaphor an argument of the BPN, which they treat as a predicate.

The idea of taking the argument of an inalienable BPN as an anaphoric element is preserved in Huang et al.’s (Reference Huang, Li and Li2009: 140–147) discussion of still another type of possessive construction, the ‘possessive passive’ construction, as in (7).

They assume that bei is a predicate that selects an experiencer subject Zhangsan and an IP denoting an event. The IP has an adjunct null operator OP controlled by the subject. For them, this control relation is realized under bei- predication. The OP, in turn, moves from the outer object of the VP dasi-le Pro baba, leaving a trace in the specifier of that VP. This trace, i.e. the VP specifier, is assigned the role affectee by the V'. Finally, the trace of the OP controls the null Pro, which is the possessor of the inalienable RN baba ‘father’.

Huang et al. (Reference Huang, Li and Li2009) do not explain what a Pro is in their account, but refer readers back to Huang (Reference Huang, Jaeggli and Safir1989). Huang (Reference Huang, Jaeggli and Safir1989) discusses two types of empty categories, pro and PRO, so ‘Pro’ must be one of them. Huang (Reference Huang, Jaeggli and Safir1989: 193) proposes that both pro and PRO are subject to a Generalized Control Rule, which implies that these two types of empty categories must be controlled in their control domain. The Generalized Control Rule and the control domain are respectively very similar to Binding Condition A and the binding domain in Chomsky (Reference Chomsky1981, Reference Chomsky1986), suggesting that the Pro associated with the inalienable nouns in ‘possessive passive’ constructions such as (7) are treated similarly to a (locally-bound) anaphor.

Unlike the studies above, Niu (Reference Niu2016) assumes that the implicit argument of RNs, specifically KNs, is a null pro that is realized independently of whether there is an overt possessor (e.g. a pronoun) in the structure. Niu’s syntactic structure for ta baba ‘her/his father’ is in (8).

Niu (Reference Niu2016) proposes that in (8), the null pro agrees with the pronoun, which occupies the D head. Unfortunately, Niu (Reference Niu2016) does not explain why the null argument of KNs must be a pro. Since pro usually stands for a null pronoun, it is reasonable to assume that Niu treats it as a pronoun rather than a reflexive. Niu (Reference Niu2016: 60) also argues that BPNs do not have an implicit argument and are not RNs, contrary to what we will show in this paper. Finally, she restricts her analysis to what she refers to as juxtaposed possessives, such as ta baba ‘her/his father’ in (8), in which the possessor is overtly realized by a pronominal element with the DP projection of the RN.

In sum, Chappell (Reference Chappell, Chappell and McGregor1996), Cheng & Ritter (Reference Cheng and Ritter1987), Huang et al.’s (Reference Huang, Li and Li2009) and Niu (Reference Niu2016) treat the empty category associated with inalienable RNs in Chinese either as an anaphor which co-indexes with an antecedent (possibly through binding or control),Footnote 6 or as a pronoun (normally a pro) which agrees and co-refers with its antecedent. Therefore, the syntactic nature of the implicit argument of RNs remains controversial. In addition, these studies examine only special possessive constructions such as double subject constructions, ba- constructions and bei- constructions, which seem to involve special theta-role assignments. For instance, the double subject constructions have two ‘agents’, and ba- and bei- constructions include an affectee or an experiencer that is related to the possessor of the inalienable RN. These constructions are not ideal for the study of implicit arguments of RNs, because in addition to binding/agreement/control, possessor raising/movement can also be involved, obscuring the syntactic nature of the implicit argument. Finally, and importantly, previous studies also do not recognize important syntactic differences between the implicit arguments of two types of inalienable RNs, namely BPNs and KNs, as we will do in this paper.

Therefore, we turn our attention back to inalienable RNs that occur as bare nouns heading an NP, as we specify below, which provide us cleaner empirical basis to investigate the syntactic nature of the implicit argument of RNs.

3. The reflexive implicit argument of bare RNs in Chinese

In this section, we explore the syntactic behavior of bare RNs in Chinese. First, we will review Ke et al.’s (Reference Ke, Zhao, Gao, Liu and Pires2019) arguments that the implicit argument of kinship RNs must be a syntactically projected reflexive rather than a pronoun, based on their experimental results. We will provide additional empirical and theoretical evidence for this argument in this paper.

Ke et al. (Reference Ke, Zhao, Gao, Liu and Pires2019) provide two pieces of experimental evidence for the argument that the implicit argument of bare kinship RNs is more likely a reflexive than a pronoun. First, participants in a truth-value judgment experiment judged test items such as (9) to be a false statement after hearing a story in which Zhangsan and Lisi planned to take their sons to the island Qingdao for a trip, and Zhangsan ended up taking Lisi’s son but not his own son to Qingdao. The reason the participants provided to support their rejection of the sentence was that erzi ‘son’ in (9) must be Zhangsan’s son, and not Lisi’s son.

Ke et al.’s (Reference Ke, Zhao, Gao, Liu and Pires2019) experimental results such as above were compatible with the hypothesis that the implicit argument of RNs is a reflexive. If the implicit argument of the RN erzi ‘son’ is a reflexive, it must take the c-commanding subject Zhangsan as its antecedent, so the son must be Zhangsan’s son. However, if the implicit argument were a pronoun, it could be related to a salient referent in the context, which would mean that the son could be Lisi’s son in the interpretation of (9), contrary to what experimental subjects indicated. In addition, replacing the RN (in the background story and in the test sentence) with a non-RN, e.g. shubao ‘schoolbag’, made the new test sentence, shown in (10), a true statement for the experimental subjects in Ke et al. (Reference Ke, Zhao, Gao, Liu and Pires2019), who allowed shubao ‘schoolbag’ to be interpreted as Lisi’s schoolbag, given the corresponding context story. Therefore, the interpretation of non-RNs in cases such as (10) shows that they do not have a reflexive argument, unlike RNs.

Second, Ke et al.’s (Reference Ke, Zhao, Gao, Liu and Pires2019) experimental results showed that the referent of the implicit argument of kinship RNs observes a c-command requirement. That is, experimental subjects allowed only c-commanding NPs to be the antecedent of the implicit argument of RNs. For example, in (11), the son must be Mickey Mouse’s son rather than Donald Duck’s, because only Mickey Mouse c-commands the implicit argument of erzi ‘son’.

This c-command requirement for the co-reference reading is consistent with the hypothesis that the implicit argument is a reflexive, not a pronoun.

Therefore, Ke et al. (Reference Ke, Zhao, Gao, Liu and Pires2019) proposed that kinship RNs in Chinese bear an implicit reflexive argument. Although Ke et al. did not exclude PRO as a possible candidate for the implicit argument of the bare RNs, PRO is arguably not possible in constructions such as (9) and (11), since these constructions are single clause CPs, not embedded clauses with a control subject. Therefore, we will not consider PRO in the analyses developed here (in our final discussion we return to further arguments for not adopting a PRO analysis of implicit arguments of RNs).

In what follows we provide additional empirical and theoretical arguments from quantifier binding and VP ellipsis to support the hypothesis that the implicit argument of bare RNs (including both KNs and BPNs) is a null reflexive rather than an unbound pronoun.

First, when a reflexive is bound by a quantifier, it allows only a bound reading, but a pronoun can have both a bound reading and a referential reading. In (12a) the BPN shou ‘hand’, or rather, its implicit argument, is bound by mei-ge xuesheng ‘every student’, and the sentence has a bound reading only: for every student x, x wrote the answer on x’s hand.Footnote 7

Similarly, as shown in (12b), if we insert an explicit reflexive possessor before the RN, i.e. ziji de ‘self’s’ or ta-ziji de ‘her/him-self’s’ (in boldface above), only the bound reading is available, matching the interpretation of the implicit argument of a BPN. However, (12c) shows that if instead a pronoun possessor (in boldface above) is inserted, the sentence becomes ambiguous, because besides the bound reading, shou ‘hand’ in (12c) can also refer to a possessor who is salient in the context and is not part of the set of students.

We also find that implicit arguments of RNs have interpretations matching those of reflexives, not pronouns, when RNs are elided inside a VP. It has long been known that elided bound reflexives have only a sloppy reading, whereas elided bound pronouns have both a strict and a sloppy reading, as in the contrast between (13a, b) (Sag Reference Sag1976, Williams Reference Williams1977, Shapiro & Hestvik Reference Shapiro and Hestvik1995, but see Hestvik Reference Hestvik1995 for some variation).

(13a) means that John defended himself, and Bill also defended himself (sloppy reading). However, when a bound pronoun is elided in (13b), the sentence can mean that Bill likes John’s car (strict reading) or his own (Bill’s) car (sloppy reading). This is possibly because a pronoun can either be a bound variable or refer to a salient entity in the context, whereas a locally bound reflexive can only be a bound variable. With the pronoun and the reflexive interpreted as a bound variable, both (13a, b) lead to the sloppy readings. However, the elided pronoun in (13b) can also refer to John, so the sentence has an additional interpretation, i.e. Bill likes John’s car (strict reading).

When RNs such as toubu ‘head’ (14a) and fuqin ‘father’ (14b) are included in the elided VP, we find that only the sloppy reading is possible, regarding the interpretation of the RN’s implicit argument.

This indicates again that the implicit argument behaves as a reflexive rather than a pronoun (see Section 4, however, for our proposed split in the treatment of the implicit arguments of RNs as reflexives). In addition, if the possessor argument is saturated by an overt proper name, the sloppy reading under VP ellipsis is lost (14c).

The contrast is confirmed when we insert an overt reflexive or pronoun possessor before the RNs. If an overt reflexive possessor, ziji de “self's” or ta ziji de “himself's” (note that pronouns in Chinese do not make distinctions between genders), is attached to the RN in (14a), as shown in (15a), the interpretation of the sentence does not change. However, if a pronoun possessor, ta de ‘his’, is inserted (15b), either a sloppy or a strict reading is possible. The same applies to (14b), as shown in (16).

3.1 Bare BPNs bear locally bound reflexive arguments

If the hypothesis that bare RNs have a reflexive argument is on the right track, a question immediately comes up: do body-part and kinship RNs have the same type of implicit reflexive argument? This question is important because Chinese has two types of reflexives, morphologically complex reflexives pronoun-ziji (e.g. ta-ziji ‘her-/him-self’) and morphologically simple reflexives (ziji ‘self’). Complex reflexives are similar to English reflexives which must be locally bound in the minimal TP (or DP) with an accessible subject, where the reflexive is located (Chomsky Reference Chomsky1986, Huang et al. Reference Huang, Li and Li2009; see Yu Reference Yu1996 and Pan Reference Pan1998 for exceptions).Footnote 8 On the other hand, the simple reflexive is a long-distance bound reflexive which allows a c-commanding antecedent in a higher TP. We show in this subsection that the implicit argument of BPNs shares with complex reflexives the requirement that both must be locally bound, whereas in Section 3.2 we show that the implicit argument of KNs behaves like the simple reflexive since both can be long-distance bound.

An important note should be made before we proceed: although we will argue that the implicit argument of BPNs is a locally bound reflexive, we do not commit to the conclusion that the implicit reflexive argument in this case must be a complex reflexive. The only reason we relate the implicit argument of BPNs to complex reflexives is because both happen to be locally bound (in canonical contexts).

Similar to complex reflexives, the implicit argument of bare BPNs in Chinese must be c-commanded and locally bound by its antecedent. In (17a) Zhangsan but not Lisi can be the antecedent of the implicit possessor argument of the BPN tui ‘leg’ because the former c-commands tui but the latter does not. Substituting tui with a complex reflexive ta-ziji ‘her-/him-self’ leads to the same restriction (17b).

The structure in (18a) shows that shou ‘hand’ must be locally bound, allowing only the local subject Lisi as its antecedent.

This is similar to (18b), where a complex reflexive possessor is inserted before shou and the same interpretation is obtained. If we instead insert a simple reflexive ziji ‘self’ as the possessor in (18c), the sentence has a different interpretation; (18c) is now ambiguous in that the simple reflexive can be locally or long-distance bound.

3.2 KNs bear long-distance bound reflexive arguments

We have shown that BPNs bear a locally bound reflexive argument, now let us test KNs. If KNs had a locally bound reflexive argument, we would expect them to have the same distribution as BPNs. However, if KNs instead have a long-distance reflexive as their implicit argument, then we expect it to have the core, if not all, syntactic properties of the long-distance simple reflexive ziji. This latter prediction is borne out: the implicit argument of KNs shows the binding properties of a simple reflexive. In order to compare KNs with simple reflexives, we examine the syntactic properties in (19).

The list of properties in (19) have been identified as the most important syntactic characteristics of Chinese simple reflexives in the literature (e.g. Huang & Tang Reference Huang, Tang, Koster and Reuland1991, Cole & Sung Reference Cole and Sung1994, Xue, Pollard & Sag Reference Xue, Pollard, Sag, Aranovich, Byrne, Preuss and Senturia1994, Pan Reference Pan and Cole2001, Wang & Pan Reference Wang and Pan2015; see also Charnavel et al. Reference Charnavel, Huang, Cole, Hermon, Everaert and van Riemsdijk2017 for a comprehensive review). We have already shown the c-command requirement at the beginning of Section 3; below we focus on the three other properties.

3.2.1 Long-distance binding

Fuqin ‘father’ in (20a) can be either John’s or Tom’s father, which means that the implicit argument of father can be either locally or long-distance bound. We find that the interpretation is the same as (20b), where an overt simple reflexive is inserted as the possessor of the KN, unlike (20c), where a complex reflexive is added as the possessor.

The examples in (21) provide additional evidence showing a clear contrast between BPNs and KNs, because the two sentences differ minimally regarding whether a BPN or a KN is involved (as boldfaced). We find that the implicit possessor argument requires local binding with the BPN in (21a), but allows either local or long-distance binding with the KN in (21b).

3.2.2 Subject orientation

Although any NP that c-commands ziji can in principle be taken as its antecedent, there is a strong preference to take the subject rather than the object as the antecedent (Huang Reference Huang1982, but see Huang et al. Reference Huang, Li and Li2009 for exceptions). For example, in (22a), ziji refers to the subject Zhangsan rather than the object Lisi. Both Zhangsan and Lisi c-command ziji, so it is surprising that only Zhangsan can be taken as the antecedent of ziji. We do not see such a strong subject-orientation effect for the complex reflexive (22b), but the pattern for KNs is similar to that of the simple reflexive (22c).Footnote 9

On the other hand, (23a) shows that the BPN lian ‘face’ is not subject-oriented. (23b) further shows that the interpretation is similar to the overt complex reflexive possessor case, which is also not subject-oriented, rather than the overt simple reflexive possessor case.

3.2.3 Blocking effects

Further evidence for the contrast between BPNs and KNs regarding their local vs. long-distance binding, respectively, comes from a comparison of BPNs and KNs in their syntactic behavior regarding blocking effects, another well-known syntactic property of long-distance reflexives (Huang & Tang Reference Huang, Tang, Koster and Reuland1991, Xue et al. Reference Xue, Pollard, Sag, Aranovich, Byrne, Preuss and Senturia1994, Pan Reference Pan and Cole2001).

It has long been noticed that first- and second-person pronouns can block third-person NPs from long-distance binding of ziji. (24a) reveals that in general, any c-commanding third person nouns can be the antecedent of ziji. However, in (24b), although Yuehan ‘John’, wo ‘I’, ni ‘you’, and Tangmu ‘Tom’ all c-command ziji and are all in principle possible antecedents, only the lowest c-commanding NP, Tangmu can serve as the antecedent. This is because the first- or second-person pronoun prevents the reflexive from taking the first NP Yuehan ‘John’ as its antecedent (see Charnavel et al. Reference Charnavel, Huang, Cole, Hermon, Everaert and van Riemsdijk2017 and references therein for competing explanations of the blocking effect).

Crucially, similar blocking effects are observed with the implicit argument of KNs. For instance, when we replace the simple reflexive ziji with the KN erzi ‘son’, exactly the same contrast as in (24a, b) is detected between (25a, b).

3.3 Some other contrasts between BPNs and KNs

We have shown that the implicit arguments of body-part and kinship RNs are different in that the former must be locally bound whereas the latter can be either locally or long-distance bound. In this section, we would like to directly contrast BPNs and KNs in other special circumstances. As in English, a DP with an accessible subject, e.g. a nominalized DP (26) or a relative clause (27), is a binding domain in Chinese, and it will block long-distance binding outside the local binding domain of a BPN as in (26a) and (27a), but not that of a KN as in (26b) and (27b).

Finally, reconstruction provides another way to distinguish the implicit argument of BPNs from that of KNs. Similar to English reflexives (Huang Reference Huang1993, Heycock Reference Heycock1995), we expect the reflexive argument of BPNs and KNs to be subject to reconstruction. This prediction is borne out. We use the lian … dou ‘even … all’ focus construction to front the phrase with KNs or BPNs. As we can see in (28a, b), reconstruction occurs both with the fronted fuqin ‘father’ and lian ‘face’ (the elided lower copies are indicated by strikethroughs in the examples), resulting in the interpretation where Lisi binds the fronted KN and the BPN, although it does not c-command them in the surface form.

However, notice that there is also a clear difference between KNs and BPNs in (28a, b). In (28a), the implicit possessor argument of the KN fuqin ‘father’ can be bound by Zhangsan, an antecedent outside of the local CP. This is a property of long-distance binding. On the other hand, long-distance binding in this case is not possible with the BPN (28b).

We further notice that if a simple reflexive is inserted as the possessor before the KN in (28a), as shown in (29a), long-distance binding is still possible. On the other hand, long-distance binding is not available, just like in (28b), if we insert a complex reflexive as the possessor before the BPN (29b).

In sum, we have shown in this section that in Chinese the implicit argument shows local binding properties in BPNs, akin to the complex reflexive ta-ziji, and long-distance binding properties in KNs, akin to the simple reflexive ziji ‘self’.

4. Logophoricity distinction of implicit arguments of RNs

A remaining puzzle is why there is such a distinction between BPNs and KNs. That is, why must the implicit argument of BPNs be locally bound, whereas that of KNs can be long-distance bound? In this and the next section, we propose that the binding properties of RN’s implicit arguments are related to their logophoricity properties, and consider two tentative accounts for this distinction.

Our proposal is that in Chinese, the implicit argument of KNs, like the simple reflexive ziji, shows logophoric properties, which enables it to refer to a long-distance antecedent. However, the implicit argument of BPNs cannot be a logophor, and its binding is locally restricted. This proposal is compatible with Huang & Liu (Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001), Reuland (Reference Reuland2001) and Charnavel & Sportiche (Reference Charnavel and Sportiche2016), who argue that long-distance binding is a result of logophoricity.Footnote 10

Logophors, often referred to in the literature as logophoric pronouns, were firstly reported in West African languages (e.g. Ewe) with regard to a type of pronouns that is morphologically distinct from standard pronouns and from reflexives, referring specifically to ‘the individual (other than the speaker) whose speech, thoughts, feelings, or general state of consciousness are reported or reflected in the linguistic context in which the pronoun occurs’ (Clements Reference Clements1975: 141).Footnote 11 Sells (Reference Sells1987) further divides logophors into three types: the source, the self and the pivot. “The source is the one who makes the report (for example, the speaker). The self represents the one whose ‘mind’ is being reported; the pivot represents the one from whose point of view the report is made.” (Sells Reference Sells1987: 455)

Building on Sells (Reference Sells1987), Huang & Liu (Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001) and Huang et al. (Reference Huang, Li and Li2009) argue that locally bound reflexives are pure or plain anaphoric reflexives which are subject to standard binding theory (Chomsky Reference Chomsky1981, Reference Chomsky1986), and long-distance bound reflexives are logophors (see also Reuland Reference Reuland2001).Footnote 12 They suggest that long-distance simple reflexive ziji is limited to logophoric uses. In the following we provide several diagnostics for (non-)logophoric reflexives.Footnote 13

4.1 Blocking effects

One such diagnostic is blocking effects in reflexive binding. Huang et al. (Reference Huang, Li and Li2009: Chapter 9) consider blocking effects a result of invalid shifts in perspectives. They thus predict that blocking effects occur only with long-distance reflexives, not with locally bound, non-logophoric ziji. This prediction is justified by the contrast in (30).

In (30a), the first- and second-person pronouns wo/ni ‘I/you’ prevent the reflexive from taking the long-distance NP Yuehan ‘John’ as its antecedent, whereas such blocking effect is absent with the locally bound reflexive in (30b).

In parallel, (31a) indicates that when the implicit argument of the KN erzi ‘son’ is locally bound, it is also not subject to blocking effects, although we have also seen in Section 3.2 that KNs exhibit blocking effects when they are long-distance bound.Footnote 14 Comparatively, as demonstrated by (31b), BPNs, like locally bound reflexives, are also exempt from blocking effects.

4.2 Sub-command effects

Sub-command effects, another diagnostic of logophoric use, reveal another disassociation between BPN non-logophors and KN logophors. Sub-command effects are a typical syntactic property of both the simple and complex reflexive in Chinese. Take (32) as an example, in which Zhangsan sub-commands the reflexives because it is at the specifier of a possessive phrase that c-commands the reflexive. Although Zhangsan does not c-command the reflexive, the sub-command relation suffices for it to be the antecedent of the reflexives because the possessee (jiao’ao ‘pride’) is inanimate.Footnote 15

Charnavel & Huang’s (Reference Charnavel, Huang, Hracs and Storoshenko2018) grammaticality judgment experiments indicate a correlation between sub-command effects and logophoricity. In addition, inanimate anaphors (anaphors that are bound by inanimate antecedents), which lack a mental state, are incompatible with logophoricity (see also Charnavel & Sportiche Reference Charnavel and Sportiche2016). Charnavel & Huang (Reference Charnavel, Huang, Hracs and Storoshenko2018: 140) find that inanimate anaphors also do not exhibit sub-command effects (33), confirming that sub-command effects are an artifact of logophoricity.

Below we present two additional pieces of evidence to support the argument that sub-command is an artifact of logophoricity.

We notice further that, unlike regular bound reflexives, sub-commanded reflexives cannot be reconstructed. For example, we focalize the sub-commanded reflexive in (32) over its antecedent, as in (34).

In this case, the reflexive cannot be reconstructed to its original position and be bound by the antecedent, although we showed in Section 3.3 that regularly bound reflexives do exhibit reconstruction effects in the same context. The absence of reconstruction effects further underpins Charnavel & Huang’s (Reference Charnavel, Huang, Hracs and Storoshenko2018) argument that sub-command effects are not regular binding and they signal logophoric uses.

In parallel, we also observe that KNs exhibit sub-command effects but BPNs do not, as illustrated in (35) and (36b), respectively.

The main difficulty our consultants have with (36a, b) is that they were not clear about who the possessors of the BPNs are. However, if an overt pronoun possessor is inserted right before the BPN, these two examples become perfectly acceptable. Therefore, KNs are compatible with logophoricity regarding the sub-command possibility, but BPNs are not.

Notice that a subset of native speakers reported that they accepted both (36a, b). However, the majority of these speakers got an arbitrary interpretation of the BPNs in (36), but not for the KNs in (35). That is, jiao ‘foot’ and shouzhi ‘finger’ in (36) can be a foot or a finger of someone other than Zhangsan; however, fuqin ‘father’ and didi ‘younger brother’ in (35) can only be Zhangsan’s father or younger brother. With the arbitrary interpretation, the BPNs can be any person’s body parts (including Zhangsan’s). Further evidence for the arbitrary interpretation of BPNs in (36) comes from (37).

All speakers we consulted found a distinction between these two reconstruction sentences. It is expected that (37a) is not acceptable, as we have seen in (34) that sub-command generally cannot be reconstructed. Consequently, our consultants complained that the reference of didi 'younger brother' was unclear, and they would like to add a pronominal possessor before it if it meant to refer to Zhangsan's brother. Why then is (37b) good? Consistent with our explanation of (36), we suggest that this is because jiao ‘foot’ is interpreted as a non-RN, receiving an arbitrary interpretation, although pragmatically Zhangsan is a more salient possessor. In the case of this arbitrary interpretation, the implicit argument of the BPN is arguably suppressed (Barker Reference Barker1995) or saturated (Zhang Reference Zhang2009) (see also footnote 6 above), thus not requiring to be bound by an antecedent.

4.3 VP ellipsis

VP ellipsis is another test that can help us tease apart logophoric and anaphoric properties. Reuland (Reference Reuland2001) proposes that logophoric use is a kind of pronominal use (see also Bouchard Reference Bouchard1982: 78; Cole, Hermon & Huang Reference Cole, Hermon and Huang2001: xvii). Anaphoric and logophoric reflexives are therefore predicted to be in complementary distribution, because the logophoric use is blocked in instances in which the anaphor can be locally bound. Huang & Liu (Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001) apply this hypothesis to Chinese and suggest that long-distance reflexives in Chinese are logophors, different from locally bound reflexives. If this hypothesis is on track, we expect that long-distance reflexives should share certain properties with pronouns that are not observed with locally-bound anaphors. In support of this connection, we will show below that Chinese long-distance reflexives elided inside a VP will result in a strict reading in addition to a sloppy reading, a property shared with pronouns, contrary to what has been assumed in some previous studies (e.g. Cole et al. Reference Cole, Hermon and Huang2001, Huang & Liu Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001, Charnavel et al. Reference Charnavel, Huang, Cole, Hermon, Everaert and van Riemsdijk2017).

In Section 3, we pointed out that VP ellipsis of locally bound reflexives allows the sloppy reading but not the strict reading, whereas VP ellipsis of pronouns allows either reading. It is therefore reasonable to anticipate that long-distance bound reflexives under VP ellipsis, like pronouns, lead to either the strict or the sloppy readings. However, Cole et al. (Reference Cole, Hermon and Huang2001) and Huang & Liu (Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001) suggest that this prediction is incorrect, and argue that logophoric reflexives do not give rise to a strict reading. Their examples in (38a, b) show that only the sloppy reading is available for both sentences. The corresponding sloppy readings are in (39a, b), respectively.

This is quite surprising, as it has been shown that long-distance reflexives lead to both strict and sloppy readings under VP ellipsis, in languages such as English (Lebeaux Reference Lebeaux1985, Hicks Reference Hicks2009), as illustrated in (40a), where the possible interpretations of pictures of himself in the elided VP are listed following the sentence. By contrast, locally bound reflexives in English exhibit only the sloppy reading (40b).

It is an open question as to why the sloppy reading is the dominant reading, if not the only reading, for the elided reflexives in (38a, b), but we argue that the unavailability of the strict reading in such cases should not be sufficient to rule out the idea that logophoric reflexives share properties with pronouns. It seems the strict reading is dispreferred in such examples due to independent reasons that remain unclear to us. In fact, if we replace the reflexive with a pronoun and keep everything else unchanged, the sloppy reading is still the dominant reading. Take (38a) as an example. If the reflexive is substituted by a pronoun, as in (41), the dominant reading for the elided VP is still the sloppy reading in (39b).Footnote 16

This suggests that the long-distance bound reflexive could still have pronoun properties, since the sloppy reading is still the dominant reading (or the only one accessible for a subset of speakers) even when a pronoun ta ‘him’ is used in these specific contexts.

Crucially, we would like to further point out that a confounding factor has obscured the test: Cole et al. (Reference Cole, Hermon and Huang2001) and Huang & Liu (Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001) do not distinguish matrix and embedded VP ellipsis in the cases they considered. Take (38a) again. Either the matrix VP (42a) or the embedded VP (42b) can be potentially elided. This confounding factor might have concealed some interpretations of the sentences.Footnote 17

Indeed, we found that matrix and embedded VP ellipses lead to different interpretations. For the embedded VP ellipsis, we utilize ye/que shi ‘also/yet is’ to elicit VP ellipsis (Xu Reference Xu2003, Soh Reference Soh2007, Wei Reference Wei2009, Li & Wei Reference Li, Wei, Huang, Li and Simpson2014), like Cole et al. (Reference Cole, Hermon and Huang2001) and Huang & Liu (Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001), but now unambiguously targeting the embedded VP. As exemplified in (43), when the reflexive ziji is locally bound by Zhangsan, only the sloppy reading (44a) is possible.

This is an example of VP ellipsis with a locally bound reflexive which leads to the sloppy reading but not the strict reading, as expected. Since what we are interested in are actually long-distance bound reflexives, we will ignore the locally bound reading in what follows. However, when the reflexive is long-distance bound by Lin Jiaoshou ‘Prof. Lin’ in (43), both the strict (45b) and the sloppy readings (45a) are available; to some speakers, the strict reading is actually preferred.

If we replace the reflexive with a pronoun, as indicated in (43), in accordance with our expectation, we can access either the sloppy or the strict reading in (45), similar to the long-distance bound reflexive.

A test using focused negation yi-dian ye bu ‘not at all’ (see Hsieh Reference Hsieh2001 and Soh Reference Soh2007) arrives at the same conclusion:

The use of the focused negation requires a contrastive context, and this requirement leads to a strong preference for the strict reading in (46).

For matrix VP ellipsis, since Chinese does not have a verbal pro-form equivalent to do in English as in do so, we use constructions with modals (e.g. hui ‘will’) as the licenser targeting matrix VP ellipsis (see Xu Reference Xu2003, Li & Wei Reference Li, Wei, Huang, Li and Simpson2014). The reflexives contained in the elided VP in (47) have the sloppy reading (48b) as their dominant reading, corresponding to the sloppy reading observed in (38) by Cole et al. (Reference Cole, Hermon and Huang2001) and Huang & Liu (Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001). In such cases the strict reading (48a) is either dispreferred or inaccessible to speakers.

However, even if we consider that the strict reading is inaccessible in (47), it does not follow that long-distance bound reflexives lack pronoun properties, because if we replace the reflexive with a pronoun (49), the dominant interpretation is still the sloppy reading (48b).

Furthermore, in a proper context, the strict reading for (47) becomes more prominent. Sentences such as (47), copied below as (51), are more natural with contexts asserting the antecedent of the conditional, because they usually describe the consequent of certain conditional statements. If we now add such a context that favors the strict reading, as in (50), both a reflexive as (51) and a pronoun (53) in the elided VPs can lead to the strict reading in (52) (identical to (48a)).

A summary of the results of the VP ellipsis test is provided in Table 1. In sum, when the embedded VP is elided, the strict reading is the primary interpretation, although the sloppy reading is also available, especially under appropriate contexts; however, when the matrix VP is elided, both readings are available, and to some speakers the strict reading is preferred. The ambiguity in both cases would be compatible with VP ellipsis properties of a pronoun argued for logophors. Although the cause of these preferences remains unclear, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that locally bound reflexives are ‘plain’ anaphors, whereas long-distance (LD in Table 1) reflexives, as logophors, share properties with pronouns.

Table 1 Interpretations of the elided reflexives and pronouns in matrix and embedded VP ellipsis. Corresponding examples’ numbers are provided in parentheses; LD = long distance.

After addressing the relevant issues concerning the use of VP ellipsis as a test for logophors in Chinese, let us return to the distinction between locally bound and long-distance bound implicit arguments of KNs.Footnote 20 If our analysis so far is on the right track, additional tests should set the two types of RNs apart by relating the long-distance bound implicit argument of KNs to logophors and the locally bound implicit argument of KNs (as well as that of BPNs) to locally bound reflexives. For KNs, we find exactly the same interpretations in the four cases of VP ellipsis we examined for the simple reflexive. (54) is an example where the matrix VP is elided.

As in the case of reflexives, we should put aside the irrelevant case where the KN, fuqin ‘father’, is locally bound by Lin Jiaoshou ‘Professor Lin’. When the KN implicit argument is long-distance bound by Zhangsan, the dominant reading is the strict reading (55a), and the sloppy reading (55b) is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.

As we observed for reflexives, if we use the auxiliary hui ‘will’ to induce VP ellipsis (56), then the opposite result occurs: the sloppy reading is preferred, and the strict reading is degraded. Substituting the KN with a pronoun does not change this preference.

With the embedded VP ellipsis constructions, as in (58), if the implicit argument of the KN in the antecedent is locally bound by Lin Jiaoshou ‘Prof. Lin’, the only accessible interpretation is the sloppy reading in (59b); the strict reading (59a) is not possible.

But if the KN implicit argument is long-distance bound by Zhangsan, both readings are possible; to some speakers the strict reading (60a) is actually dominant, and the sloppy reading (60b) is degraded, showing that the elided long-distance bound KN leads to both the strict and the sloppy reading, behaving like a pronoun.

The contrast between locally bound and long-distance bound implicit possessors of KNs, on a par with the contrast we observed between locally and long-distance bound reflexives, reinforces other results in this paper: (i) the implicit argument of KNs bears syntactic properties that are similar to the simple reflexive in Chinese; (ii) reflexives and the implicit possessor arguments of KNs that are long-distance bound are different from their locally bound counterparts in that the former are logophors and share properties with pronouns under VP ellipsis.

In sum, both the implicit argument of BPNs and that of KNs can be locally bound anaphors, but these two types of implicit argument differ in that, when local binding does not take place, the latter can be a logophor, but the former cannot.Footnote 21

The null arguments of BPNs and KNs thus correspond to the locally bound reflexive ta-ziji ‘herself/himself/itself’ and the long-distance reflexive ziji ‘self’ in Chinese in terms of their interpretations, respectively. Note that the null argument of BPNs can be replaced by an overt non-locally bound reflexive (as in ziji de shou ‘self’s hand’) or a referential DP, and the null argument of KNs can be replaced by an overt non-long-distance bound reflexive (as in ta-ziji de fuqin ‘his own father’) or a referential DP.Footnote 22 However, if the arguments are null, the bare RNs will end up getting the ‘default’ interpretations: for BPNs, the null argument will be interpreted as a locally bound reflexive, and for KNs, long-distance reflexive.Footnote 23 The reader may wonder where these default interpretations are originated from. In the next section, we will briefly discuss three reasons that might have caused the distinctive default interpretations of BPNs and KNs.

5. Why are BPNs and KNs different?

If we are on track regarding the differences between the binding and logophoric properties of bare BPNs and KNs, a relevant question is what is the source of such differences? Whereas the exact answer is not completely clear to us, we would like to point out some clues that may shed light on this question.

Three conceptual and empirical conjectures may be suggestive regarding why implicit possessors of BPNs (or body-part reflexives) are generally locally bound and not compatible with logophoricity, unlike KNs. First, a lexical difference between BPNs and KNs is that BPNs as arguments do not in fact introduce an additional participant to the event represented by the predicate (see Fox Reference Fox1981: 331–335; Reuland Reference Reuland2011: 228–245). For instance, John hurt his arm entails John hurt himself. This results in a sort of referential overlap between the external and internal arguments. Nevertheless, sentences with KNs, for example John hurt his mother, do not have such an entailment but instead involve an additional participant besides John, John’s mother, in the event. If (partial) identity between the corresponding arguments (or between the theta-roles) leads to the reflexive marking of the predicate, as argued by Reinhart & Reuland (Reference Reinhart and Reuland1993), then the source of the local binding of implicit arguments of BPNs can be explained. Possibly related evidence from Lardil indicates that BPNs do reflexively mark the predicate, as shown in (62), where a reflexive morpheme is added to the verb when its object is a BPN (Klokeid Reference Klokeid1976: 290–291; Fox Reference Fox1981: 332).

Similarly, in German, a reflexive morpheme can be optionally added when the direct object is a BPN, exemplified in (63) (Fox Reference Fox1981: 332).

This may explain why BPNs are typologically the most common lexical origin of reflexives across languages (Schladt Reference Schladt, Frajzyngier and Walker2000). For example, the BPN buru ‘head’ in Basque is also used as a reflexive. Interestingly, reflexives that are developed from BPNs, usually named body-part reflexives, are generally also locally bound. Based on their corpus study of African body-part reflexives, Reuland & Schadler (Reference Reuland and Schadler2010: 1) make the following generalization: body-part reflexives must be locally bound in canonical argument positions. Reuland & Schadler indicate that they found no evidence for body-part reflexives being long-distance bound and/or used as logophors. Whether this generalization is extensible to Chinese needs further research, but it is reasonable at this stage to say that body-part reflexives in Chinese are more like locally bound reflexives.Footnote 24 In Chinese, we have zi-shen ‘self-body’ as a complex reflexive developed from the BPN shen ‘body’, and it must be locally bound when it is in canonical object positions, as in (61), unlike ziji (although there are also uses of zishen as an intensifier or a logophor under some restricted cases, see Pan Reference Pan1995: Chapter 7 and Yu Reference Yu1996: Chapter 8).

Another conjecture is that BPNs require physical contexts and for this reason are not compatible with logophoricity licensing predicates such as admire, talked about, as pointed out by Lødrup (Reference Lødrup1999, Reference Lødrup2014) in his analysis of Norwegian BPNs, whereas KNs do not have such a restriction. According to Bresnan et al. (Reference Bresnan, Asudeh, Toivonen and Wechsler2016: 282), a physical context is where ‘a possessor acts on or in relation to her body, or locates something in relation to her body, or where someone acts on the possessor by acting on her body.’ Similar restrictions are also found for body-part RNs in French (Guéron Reference Guéron and Coene2003, Reference Guéron, Everaert and van Riemsdijk2006). We notice such a restriction is also observed with regard to the relational interpretation of bare BPNs in Chinese. The relational interpretation becomes inaccessible if the predicates describe abstract thoughts, such as believe, understand, know, study, admire, discuss. There thus seems to be an inherent conflict cross-linguistically between these ‘abstract’ predicates and bare relational BPNs. However, no such conflict occurs between the same type of predicates and KNs. (64a) instantiates this conflict:

Given an abstract predicate, shou ‘hand’ does not carry an implicit relational interpretation, suggesting that the locally bound implicit possessor does not get realized syntactically in such cases. The only interpretation that is available here is the arbitrary interpretation. On the other hand, KNs such as fuqin ‘father’ can still be relational in the same contexts (64b).

These predicates describing thoughts or states of mind are usually licensers for logophoric use (Charnavel & Zlogar Reference Charnavel and Zlogar2015, Rudnev Reference Rudnev2017). For example, Rudnev (Reference Rudnev2017) finds a simple reflexive in Avar, z̆iw, which is only allowed to be long-distance bound, and argues that it must be a logophor because the matrix predicate must be ‘a verb of saying, belief, or perception’ (attitudinal predicate) to license the logophor in the embedded clause (Rudnev Reference Rudnev2017: 165–166).

Note that the inaccessibility of the relational interpretation of the BPN in (64a) is not because these abstract predicates are themselves not compatible with objects that include body-part RNs. In (65), where a complex reflexive possessor of the BPN is inserted, the relational meaning of the BPN is still available, suggesting that it is the interpretation of the implicit reflexive argument of bare BPNs that is affected by these abstract predicates.

The incompatibility between body-part RNs with an implicit possessor and abstract predicates that license logophoricity thus may contribute to the incompatibility between bare body-part RNs with an implicit possessor and logophoricity.

The third conjecture concerns the following critical difference between KNs and BPNs: KNs can be frequently used as vocatives (66), whereas BPNs are usually not – although possible.Footnote 25

When KNs such as ba/ma/jie/erzi ‘dad/mom/older sister/son’ are used as vocatives, they refer to the speaker’s dad, mom, older sister or son. Vocative use is therefore based on the perspective of the speaker as the logophoric center. This may tie together KNs with logophors from a historical, grammaticalization perspective, distinguishing KNs from BPNs in their logophoric properties: since KNs are frequently associated with a perspective center, the implicit argument of KNs is more tightly connected to the simplex reflexive in Chinese, which can be used as a logophor; by contrast, BPNs are not usually tied to a logophoric center.

While the above three conjectures provide potential explanations for some of the differences we observed between the implicit arguments of BPNs and KNs, these explanations still require further research.

6. Conclusions and future directions

The current study provided evidence that bare inalienable relational nouns (RNs) have a syntactically represented implicit reflexive argument, and that the implicit arguments of these RNs are of two types. Body-part nouns/BPNs have a locally bound reflexive as their implicit possessor argument, whereas kinship nouns/KNs bear a reflexive argument that must be either locally or long-distance bound. Furthermore, these two types of implicit arguments of BPNs and KNs share important syntactic properties with the locally bound complex reflexive and the long-distance simple reflexive in Chinese, respectively. In addition, we presented evidence that body-part RNs are not compatible with logophoricity whereas KNs are. It is possible that it is the logophoric use that has led to long-distance binding for both the overt simple reflexives and the implicit possessor of KNs in Chinese, which leads us to the hypothesis that logophors and locally bound anaphors are in complementary distribution, providing independent novel support for studies that impose a dividing line between local and long-distance reflexives, including Reuland (Reference Reuland2001), Huang & Liu (Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001), and more recently Charnavel & Sportiche (Reference Charnavel and Sportiche2016). Finally, since this study has provided some evidence for the claim that the implicit argument of BPNs is not pronominal, analyses that build upon the assumption that such implicit argument is pronominal (e.g. Reuland & Winter Reference Reuland, Winter, Devi, Branco and Mitkov2009) have to work around the problem and explain why such a pronoun argument (as these analyses assume) cannot carry (disjoint) reference independently from an antecedent, which is an important characteristic of typical pronouns.

As for the cross-linguistic significance of this study, we would like to mention that BPNs and KNs in Norwegian share similar distinctions to the ones we observed in Chinese, namely, the former must be locally bound, and the latter can be either locally or long-distance bound. For instance, the contrast shown in (67) supports the argument that BPNs such as håret hair’ must be locally bound whereas KNs such as faren father’ can be either locally or long-distance bound (Lødrup, personal communication, 24 March 2017; see also Lødrup Reference Lødrup1999, Reference Lødrup2014).

We hope that the distinctive properties of the implicit arguments of BPNs and KNs that we observed here can substantially inform future research involving a detailed cross-linguistic comparison of these properties. Future studies may also benefit from more investigation about binding and logophoricity in other languages that allow bare RNs, including but not limited to Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese and Spanish.


We thank the audiences at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the LSA in Salt Lake City, 20th Seoul International Conference on Generative Grammar (SICOGG 20) in Seoul, the Syntax Semantic Discussion Group at the University of Michigan and the MSU Language Acquisition Lab for their helpful comments. Special thanks go to the two anonymous referees and the editor (Hans van de Koot) of the Journal of Linguistics, Helge Lødrup, Samuel Epstein, Ezra Keshet, Tim Chou, Lucy Chiang, Zheng Shen, and Sze-Wing Tang for relevant discussion and suggestions.

[2] Only in some special cases can the possessive argument of RNs be omitted in English. For instance, in sentences such as (i) the bare KN mom is allowed. Accordingly, the interpretation of the KN in such cases is rather restricted: in this case it can only refer to the speaker’s mother.

[3] In these and other examples below the indices on the RNs in the Chinese transcription are meant to identify the reference of their implicit argument, as shown on the English gloss.

[4] We avoided the use of the term ‘pronominal’ to refer to pronouns that do not have to be syntactically bound, to avoid confusion with some ambiguous uses of the attributive adjective ‘pronominal’ especially in our literature review.

[5] However, French BPNs also require the realization of a definite determiner le/la/les, unlike Chinese bare RNs. Guéron (Reference Guéron, Guéron, Obenauer and Pollock1985, Reference Guéron, Lakarra and de Urbina1992) assumes that the determiner in French is different from the in English, and argues that it is a PRO, which acts as an anaphor that must be locally bound if it is referential (otherwise it is a free variable optionally co-indexed with an arbitrary referent or an NP in its context). Guéron (Reference Guéron and Coene2003) reanalyzes the determiner as a classifier that bears φ-features (number and gender), and proposes that the binding relation between the determiner and the possessor of the BPN is established by φ-feature agreement between these two. Questions arise regarding why determiners in RNs but not in other DPs/NPs would require external φ-feature agreement (yielding a binding relation). More importantly, given the absence of an overt determiner in Chinese bare RNs, this analysis cannot be directly applied to Chinese RNs.

[6] Such a proposal is similar to the binding approach to inalienable RNs in French (Guéron Reference Guéron, Guéron, Obenauer and Pollock1985, Reference Guéron and Coene2003), which we briefly mentioned above.

[7] In this paper, we put aside a non-relational or arbitrary interpretation, where shou ‘hand’ in (12) can refer to a salient referent in the context, e.g. an artificial hand known to the speaker and the listeners. This is a case where the implicit argument of the BPNs is suppressed or saturated, following Barker (Reference Barker1995) and Zhang (Reference Zhang2009). Similarly, KNs such as erzi ‘son’, father ‘fuqin’, shushu ‘uncle’, aunt ‘ayi’ can all be used as non-RNs. For example, in fuqin de zeren hen zhong ‘the responsibility of a father is heavy’, fuqin ‘father’ is not referentially dependent on a particular individual mentioned in the context; this is because the implicit argument of non-RNs is suppressed or saturated.

[8] In this paper, we restrict ourselves to reflexives and RNs in canonical object positions, ignoring for instance their use in sentential subject (Spec, TP) positions or as intensifiers. Given certain exceptional properties of reflexives in those contexts (e.g. reflexives in sentential subject position are not expected to be bound in their local TP), we leave consideration of RNs in such positions for future research.

[9] Huang & Tang (Reference Huang, Tang, Koster and Reuland1991) have a different intuition toward (22b), which they think exhibits subject orientation as well. They list another example of subject orientation with complex reflexives, which we cite here in (i).

Unlike Huang & Tang (Reference Huang and Freidin1991), we accept Lisi as the antecedent of ta-ziji in a context in which Lisi did not know much about his own life story (e.g. Lisi lost his memory) but Zhangsan knew that and told Lisi the story. In addition, if ta-ziji in (i) is replaced with ziji, we obtain a much stronger subject-orientation effect. Therefore, we maintain the view that the complex reflexive in Chinese, like its English counterparts, is not subject-oriented.

[10] A comprehensive review of the competing theories of reflexives in Chinese is beyond the scope of this paper. Interested readers are referred to Charnavel et al. (Reference Charnavel2017) for a critical evaluation of different proposals and extensive references.

[11] Logophors are claimed to occur in English too. For instance, himself in (ia) and myself in (ib) are not bound locally but refer to the person whose belief or speech is reported.

[12] Reinhart & Reuland (Reference Reinhart and Reuland1993) hold a stricter constraint that only reflexives in argument positions are subject to their counterpart of Condition A (applying to local anaphors). This excludes all cases where reflexives are in adjunct positions.

[13] Due to space limitation, we do not discuss every diagnostic proposed in the literature, some of which are more controversial. For example, Huang & Liu (Reference Huang, Liu and Cole2001) argue that obligatory de se reading is a property of logophoric reflexives. However, Wang & Pan (Reference Wang and Pan2014) and Chen (Reference Chen, Huang and Jaszczolt2018) point out many counterexamples, showing that long-distance reflexives in Chinese are not necessarily interpreted de se. We thus leave a comprehensive evaluation of the diagnostics of logophoricity to future studies. Readers are referred to Charnavel (Reference Charnavel2017) for a longer list of diagnostics proposed in previous studies.

[14] However, given its subject-orientation requirement, as we saw before, the implicit possessor of erzi ‘son’ cannot refer to the first- and second-person pronouns in (31a).

[15] In fact, sub-command is also blocked when the possessee is inanimate but a plausible antecedent of the reflexive, illustrated in (i), which suggests that sub-command is only available when the regular binding relation built on c-command cannot be established.

If sub-command is a logophoric property, then this restriction would follow from Reuland’s (Reference Reuland2001) claim that the logophoric use can be blocked when a regular local binder is possible.

[16] Cole et al. (Reference Cole, Hermon, Lee and Cole2001: 28) consider VP ellipsis in sentences such as (41) ambiguous between a strict and a sloppy reading. While we agree that the strict reading is available for some speakers, there does seem to be a strong preference for the sloppy reading.

[17] Notice that similar tests in English can avoid such an ambiguity problem. A test sentence such as (40a) does not have the same problem, for the embedded and the matrix clause use morphologically distinct predicates (an intentional verb versus a copula), so did too elicits matrix VP ellipsis only (targeting the intentional verb).

[18] Previous studies also use the construction zheme ‘such’ + verb to elicit matrix VP ellipsis (see Huang Reference Huang and Freidin1991: 63–66 for Mandarin and Kim & Yoon Reference Kim and Yoon2009: 742–743 for Korean), where the verb repeats the matrix verb from the antecedent sentence. The example in (i) shows that, with this test, the strict reading is strongly preferred to the sloppy reading, as seen in (iia) vs. (iib). This represents a clearer case in which the strict reading is more prominent than that with the modal hui ‘will’. However, there may be a concern that zheme ‘such’ + verb could be an instance of argument ellipsis, which would make the results of this test irrelevant as a test of VP ellipsis.

[19] Some speakers we tested reported that although they can accept (51) under the context in (50), the sentences would be better if zheme juede ‘so feel’ was added to the end, with a structure similar to what we used in Footnote Footnote 17. We believe that this is because the preferred reading of (51) without the context (50) is the sloppy reading, which is incompatible with the context. However, adding zheme juede ‘so feel’ will switch the preference to the strict reading, which is perfectly consistent with the context.

[20] The VP ellipsis tests that target long-distance bound reflexives are not applicable to BPN implicit arguments, since the latter must be locally bound.

21 One may argue that at least the BPN cases we are dealing with could alternatively represent a control PRO. We have a possible answer to that criticism: our results show that there are in fact two types of implicit arguments (in BPNs and KNs), undermining the proposal of a unified control PRO approach to them, especially considering that there is no precise counterpart in the typology of PRO to the distinction we observe here between local binding and long-distance/logophoric binding for BPNs and KNs. In addition, a theoretical approach that dispenses with different types of PRO in different domains of the grammar is more satisfactory from a minimalist perspective (see e.g. Hornstein Reference Hornstein and Hendrick2003, Pires Reference Pires2006).

22 Following Ke et al. (Reference Ke, Zhao, Gao, Liu and Pires2019), we suggest that the overt possessor of RNs is originally projected as the internal argument of RNs and then raises to the possessor position of the NP headed by the RNs.

23 A similar case is found with ECM verbs: if the specifier of the embedded TP in (ia) is filled by a referential DP, i.e. Bill, there is no need to postulate a PRO; however, when the specifier is null, as in (ib), the null subject obtains a ‘default’ interpretation (whatever the reason is), that is, as a PRO that obligatorily co-indexes with John.

[24] Xu Shen in Shuowen Jiezi points out that zi (as that in ziji ‘self’) originally means nose (we should thank Bizhi Guo for bringing this to our attention). Therefore, zi is a body-part reflexive. We predict that zi, different from ziji, must be locally bound. Intriguingly, this striking contrast between zi and ziji is observed in Chinese. For example, historically zi can be used as a standalone reflexive, and it has been confirmed that zi must be locally bound (Cheng Reference Cheng1999, Dong Reference Dong2002). Ziji can be long-distance bound mainly due to the syntactic contribution of the ji part: ji is a pronominal that is normally long-distance bound (ibid.)

[25] We thank Sze Wing Tang for pointing out this difference to us.


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Figure 0

Table 1 Interpretations of the elided reflexives and pronouns in matrix and embedded VP ellipsis. Corresponding examples’ numbers are provided in parentheses; LD = long distance.

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