Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2013. Vol.3, No.2, 127-134
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 127
The Asymmetry of Chinese/English Action-Result Events
Encoding: A Cognitive Approach
Duxin Cao
College of International Studies, Southwest University, Chongqing, China
Received March 14th, 2013; r evised April 15th, 2013; accepted April 21st, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Duxin Cao. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribu-
tion License, which permits unrestricted use, d i s tribution, and reproduction in any me di um, provide d the original
work is properly cited.
The present paper attempts to look at Chinese resultative verb compounds form the perspective of cogni-
tive relativism, namely through the contrastive study of Chinese and English verb-resultatives. Based on
the comparison, the present thesis tries to explore the underlying conceptual approaches to structuring
events consisting of both action and result by Chinese native speakers and English native speakers and
show the discrepancies between them in cognition or more specifically, conceptualization of reality. Re-
sultative verb compounds in Chinese are analyzed in terms of Talmy’s conceptual structure and are shown
to present a problem for Talmy’s well-known typological dichotomy between “verb-framed” and “satel-
lite-framed” languages. It is also argued that the so-called “resultative complement” in Chinese resultative
verb compounds can be treated as the center of predication, even as the main verb. Pending further psy-
cholinguistic evidence, it appears that Chinese speakers place relatively more emphasis on the result of an
event, whereas English speakers more on the process of an event.
Keywords: Cognitive Approach; Relativism; Conceptual Structure; Chinese and English
Research Background
Resultative constructions have been a hotly-debated topic in
Chinese linguistics. This chapter gives an overview of resulta-
tive constructions and their classifications and the research
scope of this essay is thus defined.
A resultative verb compound usually encodes a causing event
(a process, or an activity) and a caused event (a result state).
Two related constructions exist in Mandarine Chinese, which
are not mutually reducible: the resultative verb compounds
(hereafter RVCs, namely, a compound verb made up of two
parts, the first indicating an action and the second the result of
that action) as in (1a) and the resultative-de constructions as in
(1a) Ta pao lei le.
He/She run-tired ASP (ASP stands for aspect marker)
“He/She ran him/herself tired.”
(1b) Ta pao de hen lei.
He/She run RES very tired (RES stands for resulta-
“He/She ran him/herself very tired.”
However, RVCs attract more attention than resultative-de
constructions, owing to their diverse behaviours in terms of
argument linking, potential interpretations, and degree of analy-
ticity and productivity. Thus we will follow this trend and focus
on RVCs in this paper.
Different from previous approaches, in this paper the writer
attempts to look at Chinese resultative verb compounds form
the perspective of cognitive relativism, namely through the
contrastive study of Chinese and English verb-resultatives and
solve the problems of the previous studies as well. Based on the
comparison, the present thesis tries to explore the underlying
conceptual approaches to structuring events consisting of both
action and result by Chinese native speakers and English native
speakers and show the discrepancies between them in cognition
or more specifically, conceptualization of reality. In the spirit of
linguistic relativism, the author would like to view the differ-
ence as reflecting ontological relativity involving events. This
ontological relativity means that English speakers tend to attend
relatively more to the process of an event, but, in contrast, Chi-
nese relative ly more to the result. In other words, while English
is an agent-oriented language, Chinese is a patient-oriented lan-
guage. The other goal of this paper is to argue against the do-
minant view that V1 is the head of RVCs and to explicate that
V2 is the center of predication of the action-result verb com-
pounds, and therefore, can be treated as the main verb. If we
take V2 as the main verb, then Chinese is no longer a satellite-
framed language as Talmy has claimed. Instead, it makes more
sense to view Chinese as primarily a verb-framed language and
only secondarily a satellite-framed language, thus forming a
tentative amendment to Talmy’s well-known typological dicho-
tomy between “verb-framed” and “satellite-fr am e d ” l a n guages.
This paper proceeds in the following order. Chapter one
opens with the significance and purpose of this studies, then
proceeds to a review made on previous researches done in the
field of RVCs. The deficiency of the previous researches is also
pointed out and analyzed in this chapter. In Chapter 2, the cur-
rent author establishes the theoretical framework of the inten-
ded cognitive relativism model for the contrastive studies of
Chinese and English verb-resultatives. Chapter 3 presents the
semantic category “result” in Chinese and its differences from
that in English. Chapter 4 is to testify the claim that in Chinese
V2 is the center of predication of the action-result verb com-
pounds, and therefore, can be treated as the main verb by ana-
lyzing some concrete language materials. Chapter 5 ends the
thesis by summarizing the major findings of the study, pointing
out its theoretical and practical implications and also limitations
and proposing suggestions for further r esea rch in this area.
Next is a general picture of what has been accomplished in
the study of Chinese verb-resultatives.
Literature Review
There are lots of previous works on Mandarin resultatives
which we cannot go through in the present paper. There are ap-
proaches as diverse as lexical, complex predicate, verb class,
and aspectual ones, among others. It is our aim to have a deeper
understanding of them before we proceed to our own analysis.
As regards lexical approach, Thompson (1973) discusses
how Mandarin RVCs are formed by lexical rules; Simpson
(1983) proposes a lexical rule to account for the valency-
changing property of English resultatives; Li (1999) shows how
argument structures of the two component verbs and that of the
RVCs are related.
On the assumptions that unaccusative verbs are underlying
objects and that the fake reflexives are coreferential with the
subjects, Simpson (1983: p. 148) shows that “resultative attrib-
utes in English are subject to the SYNTACTIC constraint that
they must be controlled by an OBJECT, whether underlying or
surface”. This constraint is later dubbed the Direct Object Re-
striction (DOR) in Levin and Rappaport Hovav.
Li’s (1999) pivotal work on V-V compounds argues that the
argument structure of the compound is determined composi-
tionally from that of each component verb. Under the Genera-
tive Grammar framework he proposes the following require-
ments: 1) Theta-identification; 2) Structured theta-grid; 3) Head-
feature percolation.
Under Lexical Functional Grammar, Her (2007) gives a le-
xical mapping account of Mandarin resultatives. The frame-
work assumes an a-structure (argument structure) which medi-
ates between the lexical semantic structure and the syntactic
structure of a predicator.
The lexical approach of resultatives either employs lexical
rules (Thompson, 1973), or augments verbal arguments (Simp-
son, 1983), or projects argument structures from those of com-
ponent verbs (Li, 1999; Her, 2007). It either disregards Type
object-oriented resultatives or explains these resultatives in a
controversial way. None of them cover resultatives of object-
oriented transitive resultatives, which have nonsubcategorized
objects. Thus the lexical approach is not tenable in accounting
for Mandarin RVC constructions.
Complex predicate approach presents a view that the result
part and the main verb in a resultative construction form a con-
stituent, or a complex predicate, which licenses the grammatical
object (if any) and the grammatical subject. Representative of
this approach is Huang’s (1992) proposal that RVCs must be
handled on a par with resultative-de constructions and that the
result verb (or result phrase in the case of resultative-de) form a
complex predicate with the main verb. Rapoport’s (1993) paper
discusses four constructions: causatives, resultatives, argument
small clauses, and adjunct-predicate constructions, the former
three being analyzed as containing complex predicates.
Huang’s (1992) account of the causative-inchoative alterna-
tions of RVCs and resultative de-constructions is appealing in
terms of simplicity. It also has an important virtue of recogniz-
ing that “theta-roles are compositionally assigned” (Huang,
1992: p. 130). That is, the verb and the result form a complex
predicate, which licenses the grammatical object and the gram-
matical subject. This analysis, however, fails to explain some
cases where an added external argument is not allowed.
Rapoport (1993) argues that the verb and the result form a
complex predicate in English resultative constructions. He also
concludes that resultative constructions cannot be analyzed as
projections of the verbs. Instead, both the verb and the result
contribute to the argument realization of grammatical functions.
Therefore, the complex predicate approach excels the lexical
approach in that the licenser is not limited to the verb only, but
to a larger language construct.
However, the complex predicate analysis still fails to explain
the existence of non-subcategorized objects in resultative con-
structions, object oriented resultatives in Mandarin.
With regard to verb class approach, Cheng and Huang (1994)
correlate event types with verb classes (unaccusativity of verbs)
and discuss the possibility of causativization. This influential
work raised some significant issues in Mandarin resultatives
that concerned us in this thesi s. Cheng and Huang (1994: p. 188 )
demonstrate the four basic predicate types: unergative, transi-
tive, ergative, and causative. Likewise, they argue that Chinese
RVCs can be classified accordingly. From the point of view of
verb classes, they argue that “the argument structure of a com-
pound is essentially a composition of the event structure rather
than the transitivity properties, of its component parts…” (p.
187). They claim that there are two paradigms: the active para-
digm performs the unergative/transitive alternation, while the
non-active paradigm performs the ergative/causative alternation.
The unergative/transitive alternation involves the event type
“activity”, while the ergative/causative alternation involves the
event type “(change of) state” (pp. 188-189).
The deficiency of Cheng and Huang’s (1994) analysis comes
from ignoring the differences between object-oriented RVCs
and subject-oriented RVCs in transitive sentences, only the
latter qualified for unergative-transitive alternations (since the
grammatical subjects remain the “semantic hosts” of the result
in both unergative and transitive constructions). Thus the four-
way distinction above is not appropriate for
Mandarin resultatives. We argue that the complexity results
from the complexity in Vc’s and Vr’s event structures, both
contributing to the behavior of the RVCs. The puzzling nature
of the unergative verbs (having both transitive and causative
alternations) is due to that they can be regarded as “unerga-
tive-unaccusative” complexes, the first giving rise to transitive
alternation and the second causative alternation.
The following part presents the aspectual approach of resul-
tative constructions. Both Rappaport Hovav and Levin (2001)
and J. Chang (2003) employ the concept of a causal chain,
though they differ in some details.
Rappaport Hovav and Levin (2001) propose a semantic ac-
count of English resultatives from an event structure viewpoint
and provide an argument against the DOR (Direct Object Re-
striction). They argue that the difference in surface form re-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
flects the difference in event structure and further argue that the
grammaticality of resultatives lies in the well-formedness of
event structures represented by causal chains.
J. Chang (2003: p. 317) argues that “it is the event role an
argument plays in event structure, rather than the thematic role
an argument plays, that determines how and where the argu-
ment is linked to the syntax.” He proposes three event roles (i.e.
event participants) involved in a causal chain (J. Chang, 2003: p.
330): The Initiator is “an entity that is involved in the initiation
or bringing about of an object.” The Target of activity is “an
entity that undergoes an action.” The Locus of affect is “an
entity that is involved in the endpoint or resulting state.” These
event participants are linked to syntactic positions via linking
Rappaport Hovav and Levin’s (2001) work faces at least two
challenges if the same framework is applied to Mandarin. The
first challenge is the plausibility of the Argument-per-Subevent
condition, which explains the difference between the bare XP
pattern and the reflexive pattern of English. The second chal-
lenge is the prediction of the causal chains, which predict that
object-oriented readings (nonbranching causal chains) are ac-
cepted while subject-oriented readings (branching causal chains)
must be excluded, a violation of the fact that in Mandarin sub-
ject-oriented resultatives exist, if not so common.
J. Chang’s (2003) analysis is promising in incorporating
Verb-copying construction and Ba-construction. The isomor-
phism between the temporal order of event roles and the linear
order of syntactic constituents is also appealing. However, there
are issues left unmentioned at all in his work. First, the inverted
causative resultatives are not discussed. Second, the subject-
oriented resultatives of the form [NP1 Vc-Vr NP2] are exem-
plified by only one example [chi-bao fan] “eat-full rice”; noth-
ing is said about the restriction of their occurrence and their
relation to other resul tatives.
To summarize, the aspectual approach is superior to tradi-
tional approaches in recognizing the existence of nonsubcate-
gorized objects. The causal chain functions like a “licenser” of
these objects. As we have pointed out here, however, there is
still weakness in this approach.
In this chapter, we have introduced different approaches to
resultative constructions in English and Mandarin. The lexical
approach is a bottom-up approach which is theoretically plausi-
ble, but it cannot generate resultatives with nonsubcategorized
objects. The complex predicate approach recognizes the con-
tribution of both component verbs in argument licensing, but it
does not deal properly with the nature of causation in Mandarin
resultatives. The verb class approach is insightful in its four-
way distinction, but it cannot explain alternations in Mandarin
resultatives property. The aspectual approach fails to cover dif-
ferent types of resultatives. Thus we see that there are pros and
cons for each approach.
To draw on their strength and avoid their weakness, in this
paper the writer attempts to look at Chinese resultative verb
compounds form the perspective of cognitive relativism, name-
ly through the contrastive study of Chinese and English verb-
resultatives and solve the problems of the previous studies as
well. Based on the comparison, the present thesis ties to explore
the underlying conceptual approaches to structuring events
consisting of both action and result by Chinese native speakers
and English native speakers and show the discrepancies be-
tween them in cognition or more specifically, conceptualization
of reality. We will introduce the cognitive approach in the next
Theoretical Framework
Cognitive Linguistics and Linguistic Relativity
The study of conceptualization of reality in different lan-
guages and cultures has been enthusiastically pursued by an-
thropologists and psychologists, especially in the well-known
Boas-Sapir-Whorf tradition. In contrast, American structuralists
and generative grammarians have shunned away from the study
of language as capable of reflecting conceptualization in dif-
ferent cultures. In retrospect, we can perhaps identify three
main reasons for linguists to have taken a very different ap-
proach to the study of language. First, psycholinguistic experi-
ments have generally failed to confirm either strong or weak
versions of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that is, linguistic de-
terminism or linguistic relativity. For instance, in reference to
Chinese grammar, Bloom’s (1981) controversial hypothesis re-
garding the absence of overt counterfactual grammatical de-
vices in Chinese and its effect on the thought of native speakers
of Chinese have been repeatedly challenged (cf. Wu, 1994).
Second, American structuralists and generative grammarians
have subscribed to Saussure’s arbitrariness principle of linguis-
tic signs and believed in the autonomy of syntax. The third
reason has to do with the influential view shared by philoso-
phers (e.g., Fodor), linguists (e.g., Chomsky) and cognitive
scientists (e.g., Pinker) that language is independent of culture
and thought and that the mental representation of language in-
volves only symbols and their operations but not images.
The emergence of cognitive linguistics as developed by La-
koff, Langacker, and Talmy in the last three decades can be
viewed as a revival of the interest in the study of conceptualiza-
tion of reality by language in different cultures. In his very
recent work, Talmy (2000: pp. 1-5) has characterized cognitive
linguistics as a conceptual approach to the study of language, in
contrast with the formal approach adopted in the tradition of
generative grammar and the psychological approach as prac-
ticed by cognitive psychologists. Furthermore, as pointed by
Talmy (ibid.), cognitive linguistics also addresses the concerns
of the two other approaches to language, for cognitive linguis-
tics seeks to understand the formal structure of language as pat-
terns of organization of conceptual content in language from
the perspective of general cognitive mechanism (Wang, 2008).
In fact, this is also the endeavor of the Boas-Sapir-Whorf tradi-
tion, although it places emphasis on cognitive relativity as well
as cognitive universality. Therefore, the emergence of cognitive
linguistics calls for a new interest in cognitive relativism.
Lakoff in his famous book Women, Fire, and Dangerous
Things (1987: pp. 304-337) has devoted a whole chapter to Whorf
and relativism. In contrast, Langacker (1987, 1991) has not ex-
plicitly addressed the issue of linguistic relativity in his seminal
works on the foundations of cognitive linguistics. However, the
attempt to restate the Boasian conceptual approach to language
seems to be very clear in Langacker's view of language struc-
ture. Thus, according to Langacker, “if one language says I am
cold, a second I have cold, and a third It is cold to me, these
expressions differ semantically even though they refer to the
same experience, for they employ different images to structure
the same basic conceptual content” (1987: p. 47). He thus
claimed (ibid.) that “meaning is language-specific to a consid-
erable extent” and that “full universality of semantic structure
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 129
cannot be presumed even on the assumption that human cogni-
tive ability and experience are quite comparable across cul-
tures.” In short, it appears that the impact of cognitive linguis-
tics can be made stronger in the context of linguistic relativism
and that cognitive linguistics can serve as a modern approach to
linguistic relativity.
Relatvism and Construction of Chinese Grammar
As pointed out by Lakoff (1987: pp. 306-337), there are
many different views of what relativism is. For the present
purpose, the writer shall not attempt to define his own version
in answering to the host of questions which Lakoff has put for
distinguishing different varieties of relativism. Instead, the
author shall take a position that is no different from the original
Boasian approach which aims to describe the grammars of
non-Indo-European languages in their own terms rather than in
terms of the meta-language developed from the structure of
Indo-European languages, which is also actively advocated at
home by Shen Jiaxuan (2011).
The Boasian approach should be greatly appreciated in the
analysis of Chinese grammar. For one reason, there is no in-
digenous Chinese grammar. The only two indigenous Chinese
grammatical concepts are “full words” and “empty words” de-
veloped from the study of classical Chinese. For another reason,
research on Chinese grammar since Mashi Wentong in 1898 has
invariably been based on grammatical theories derived from
studies of Indo-European languages. Chinese grammarians
have relied heavily on English translations and on grammatical
theories of English to analyze Chinese. It is not at all surprising
that the result of the objectivist approach based on truth-condi-
tional semantics supports the main theme of generative gram-
mar that languages are largely no different from each other in
structuring principles. There is perhaps nothing wrong with
using translation as a heuristic device to analyze Chinese or any
non-Indo-European language that does not have its own in-
digenous grammar. However, this kind of objective approach
assumes not only that semantics is universal, but also that stru-
ctural relationships among sentences are also universal. This
assumption makes the search for linguistic universals easier.
But on closer observation, it is superficial at best, and fallacious
at worst. The fact is that Chinese sentence patterns are struc-
tured with each other under a set of conceptual systems on the
one hand, and, on the other, that English sentence patterns are
also structured with each other under another set of conceptual
systems. An instructive example of misconception due to the
objectivist approach in research on Chinese grammar during the
last century can be found in the analysis of active and passive
sentences in Chinese. Thus, with rare exception, Chinese gram-
marians, be they structuralist or generativist, have invariably
treated (2a) as the active construction and (2c) as its correspon-
ding passive. Syntacticians who have worked on language typo-
logy and language universals have also taken this analysis for
granted. However, as pointed out in Tai (1989), on both seman-
tic and syntactic grounds, (2b) and not (2a) should be treated as
the corresponding active for the passive sentence (2c).
(2) a. Ta mai-le chezi.
he sell-ASP car
“He sold the car.”
b. Ta ba chezi mai-le.
“He sold the car.”
c. Chezi bei ta mai-le.
“The car was sold by him.”
In fact, the conceptual approach with a tint of relativism to
the study of Chinese grammar has uncovered several important
conceptual principles underlying the organization of Chinese
grammar. They include the Principle of Temporal Sequence
(Shen, 1993), the Principle of Whole-and-part (Tai 1989), cer-
tain iconic constraints on the denominal verb convention in
Chinese and iconic motivations for verb-copying in Chinese
(Tai, 1999). The author believes that within the framework of
the conceptual approach, many more conceptual principles of
great explanatory value are to be uncovered. In the following
section, the writer shall show that the semantic category “re-
sult” is a semantic prime in Chinese verb semantics and the
action-result schema ha s played a much more important role in
the Chinese conceptual system than in English.
The Discrepancies of Semantic Category
“Result” in Chinese and English
In Talmy’s (2000, Chapters 1&2) framework of cognitive
semantics, “result” is a semantic category under co-event which
accompanies the main event’s action or state. Although the
category of “result” is expressed in both Chinese and English, it
has different ranges of meaning which provide motivations for
different syntactic patterns.
Consider the following contrast between Chinese and Eng-
lish sentences.
(3a) Ta jia-cuo-le laogong.
she marry-wrong-ASP husband
“She has married the wrong husband.”
(3b) Ta qu-cuo-le laopo.
he marry-wrong-ASP wife
“He has married the wrong wife.”
(4) Ta zou-jin-le gongyuan.
s/he walk-enter-ASP park
“S/he walked into the park.”
(5) Ta ku-hong-le yanjing
s/he cry-red-ASP eye
“S/he cried so hard that her/his eyes turned red.”
(6) Women yao wu-chu jiankang.
we want dance-out health
“We want to dance to become healthy.”
(7) (Tamen chi yao) chi-chu wenti.
they eat medicine eat-out problem
“They became unhealthy from taking medicine.”
(8) Ta jintian zhi pao-dao-le san-ge keren.
he today only run-reach-ASP three-CL customer
“He (taxi driver) has only run three trips today.”
The sentences in (3a) and (3b) illustrate a systematic differ-
ence between Chinese and English in describing situations
wherein a mistake occurred. While the Chinese word cuo
“wrong” is the resultative component in action-result verb com-
pounds indicating the result of an action, the English word
“wrong” is an adjective modifying the object noun. If one takes
an objectivist approach and assumes Chinese and English have
the same semantics describing the making of mistakes, one
would perhaps be inclined to subscribe to the principle and
parameter approach to account for the difference between the
two languages. On the other hand, if we take a non-objectivist
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
approach, we immediately see the difference in (3a) and (3b) as
the grammatical embodiment of two different conceptual sys-
tems that are equally effective. Chinese speakers attribute the
mistake as a result of the action that the subject performs. In
contrast, English speakers report a discrepancy between the
person s/he sets out to marry and the person s/he has actually
married. Similarly, the action-result schema is consistently
patterned in Chinese, as shown in sentences (4) to (8). In con-
trast, the corresponding English sentences are largely expressed
with different grammatical patterns in which the result is usu-
ally implied, rather than overtly expressed as in Chinese.
It is clear from the above examples that the action-result
schema provides a unified conceptual schema for describing
various situations which are not necessarily construed as ac-
tion-result schema in English, even though English does have
an action-result schema as illustrated below.
(9) He hammered the metal flat.
(10) He kicked the door open.
(11) He painted the house red.
The recognition of “result” as a semantic prime in Chinese
verb semantics in fact forms a contrast with the four semantic
categories which Vendler (1967) has proposed for English
(namely, state, activities, accomplishment and achievement ca-
tegories), for Chinese has only state, activities, and result, lack-
ing accomplishment and achievement categories. The latter two
categories are expressed mostly in action-result verb com-
pounds (V1-V2). Moreover, the resultative complement V2
seems to indicate foreground information and the action verb
V1 seems to indicate background information.
The followings are some key arguments regarding to these
cross-linguistic discrepancies. First, while accomplishment verbs
in English necessarily imply an attainment of the goal, their
seeming equivalents in Chinese do not necessarily imply so.
For instance, the accomplishment verb “to kill” in English ne-
cessarily implies the death of the recipient of the action. There-
fore, (12) is ungrammatical in English.
(12) *I killed John, but he didn’t die.
The verb sha in Chinese is assumed in most English-Chinese
and Chinese-English dictionaries as equivalent to “to kill” in
English. However, as shown in (13), the verb sha doesn’t nec-
essarily imply the death of the recipient of the action (If con-
text information is properly provided, the verb sha can carry a
pragmatic connotation implying the death of the recipient of the
action. When the verb sha is used in bei and ba constructions,
the implication of death tends to be stronger. It is also the case
in verb compound mousha “murder.”).
(13) Wo sha-le John liang-ci, ta dou mei si.
I kill-ASP John two-CL he all not die
“I performed the action of attempting to kill John
twice, but he didn’t die.”
To guarantee the death of the recipient of the action, the verb
compound sha-si has to be used. The ungrammaticality of (14)
shows that sha-si does imply the death of the recipient of the
(14) *Wo sha-si-le John liang-ci, ta dou mei si.
I kill-die-ASP John two-CL he all not die
*“I killed John twice, but he didn’t die.”
In fact, the current author would argue that the verb “to kill”
doesn’t really exist in Chinese. On the one hand, many Chinese
action-result verb compounds involving si “to die” can be tran-
slated into “to kill” in English. For example,
(15) kache nian-si-le John.
truck grind-die-ASP John
“The truck killed John by running him over.”
(16) ta qiao-si-le John.
he knock-die-ASP John
“He killed John by hitting him with a hammer (stone,
stick, etc.).”
(17) ta da-si-le John.
he hit-die-ASP John
“He killed John by hitting him (with or without an
(18) ta ba erzi e-si-le.
he take son starve-die-ASP
“He killed his son by starving him.”
On the other hand, there are many uses of “to kill” in English
that cannot be translated with sha-si. They need to be translated
with verb compounds in construction with -si. For instance,
(19) The earthquake killed hundreds of people.
(20) The famine killed thousands of people.
(21) He was killed in an accident.
Second, among those achievement verbs identified by Ven-
dler (1967) and Dowty (1979), many of them are expressed in
Chinese by action-result verb compounds. For example, “to
find” in Chinese is zhao-dao “seek-reach”, “to recei ve” is shou-
dao “collect-reach,” “to see” is kan-dao “look-reach,” and “to
hear” is ting-dao “listen-reach.” These resultative verb com-
pounds behave syntactically and semantically no different from
those equivalent to accomplishment verbs in English mentioned
Most action-result verb compounds in Chinese function as
transitive verbs. There have been two related issues regarding
the transitivity. The first issue is to identify the “main verb” or
“head” in these compo un d s. The second issue has to do with the
source of transitivity. Here, the present paper shall be mainly
concerned with the first issue. The dominant view holds that the
first element of the compounds which represent action is “main
verb” or “head” (Chao, 1968; Li & Thompson, 1981; Huang,
1988; Chang, 2001). A different view has been proposed by
Shen (1993) and Li (2011) which regards the second element,
or the so-called “complement”, as the “head.” If we accept “re-
sult” as a semantic prime underlying action-result verb com-
pounds, it makes sense to take the second element as the center
of predication, even though it cannot be analyzed as an inde-
pendent transitive verb in surface syntax. Thus, the verb com-
pounds in construction with si “to die” illustrated in sentences
(15) through (18) can be analyzed as “cause to die”, as is
claimed by Wang Qiong and Wu Yaqing (2005). In other words,
as second element of the compound, it is really equivalent to
“to kill” in English. It functions as the center of predication, if
not the main verb in surface syntax. The action verbs in these
compounds, regardless of whether they are transitive or intran-
sitive verbs, function like manner adverbs, which is shared by
Liu and Zhang (2012). As a matter of fact, the first element in
verb compounds with si doesn’t have to be a verb by itself. For
example, du in (22) and qi in (24) cannot stand alone as a verb
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 131
as illustrated in (23) and (25), respectively.
(22) Tamen du-si-le John.
they poison-die-ASP John
“They killed John with poison.”
(23) *Tamen du-le John.
they poison-ASP John
“They poisoned John.”
(24) Zhe-jian shi qi-si-le John.
this-CL thing anger-die-ASP John
“This case infuriated John to death.”
(25) *Zhe-jian shi qi-le John.
this-CL thing anger-ASP John
In fact, in Talmy’s (2000: pp. 151-153) recent treatment of
the semantic category “result”, all incorporation of “result,”
whether in verb root or satellite, presents the main event. In
Chinese action-result verb compounds (V1-V2), V1 expresses
the cause, but presents the subordinate event; whereas V2 ex-
presses the result, but presents the main event. Thus Talmy’s
analysis of the resultative construction supports the writer’s an-
alysis of the resultative complement as the center of predica-
tion in Chinese. However, Talmy treats the resultative comple-
ment as the satellite rather than verb root in Chinese. In the
following section, the author questions the analysis and raises
the issue whether Chinese is indeed a “satellite-framed” lan-
guage like English.
Resultative Complement as Verb Root in
Talmy (1985, 2000) has proposed a conceptual analysis of
motion events which consists of four cognitive components:
FIGURE, GROUND, MOTION, and PATH. In addition to
these four internal components, a motion event is accompanied
with an external co-event which includes MANNER and
CAUSE. In some languages such as English or German, the
verb incorporates MOTION and MANNER. In other languages
such as French or Spanish, the verb incorporates MOTION and
PATH. The former languages are referred to as “satellite-
framed” languages and the latter as “verb-framed” languages.
In satellite-framed languages the cognitive component PATH
has to be spelled out, while in verb-framed languages the cog-
nitive component MANNER has to be spelled out. This con-
trast can be illustrated by the English example in (26) and the
French example in (27) from Ungerer and Schmid (1996).
(26) John flew across the Channel.
(27) John traversa la Manche en avion
John traversed the Channel by airplane
The following Spanish examples from Talmy (2000: pp. 49-
50) also illustrate the same point.
(28) La botella entró a la cueva (flotando)
the bottle MOVED-in to the cave (floating)
“The bottle floated into the cave.”
(29) La botella salió de la cueva (flotando)
the bottle MOVED-out from the cave (floating)
“The bottle floated out of the cave.”
(30) La botella pasó por la piedra (flotando)
the bottle MOVED-by past the rock (floating)
“The bottle floated past the rock.”
Talmy has classified Chinese as a satellite-framed language
because the verb in Chinese incorporates the MANNER
component, but not the PATH component, as shown in (31).
(31) John fei guo Yingjili Haixia
John fly pass English Channel
However, the cognitive component PATH guo in (31) can be
used independently as a verb, as illustrated in (32). Furthermore,
it can be treated as a verb incorporating MOTION and PATH.
This is evidenced by the fact that it can be affixed with the
aspect marker -le.
(32) John guo le Yingjili Haixia
John pass ASP English Channel
In contrast, the verb fei “to fly” cannot occur alone without
guo in this context, as illustrated in (33).
(33) *John fei le Yingjili Haixia
John fly ASP English Channel
The above illustrations also show that guo is a verb incorpo-
rating PATH and is the center of predication in the verb com-
pound fei-guo, which indicates the completion of passing the
channel. The sentence in (31) should be translated literally as in
(34) John passed the English Channel by flying.
Similarly, the equivalent Chinese sentences for (28)-(30) can
be given below in (35)-(37), which contain the resultative verb
compounds piao-jin, piao-chu, and piao-guo. And, sentences in
(38)-(40) show that the resultative complement V2 in each
sentence is indeed a verb root incorporating PATH.
(35) pingzi piao-jin-le dongxue
bottle float-enter-ASP cave
“The bottle floated into the cave.”
(36) pingzi piao-chu-le dongxue
bottle float-exit-ASP cave
“The bottle floated out of the cave.”
(37) pingzi piao-guo-le yanshi
bottle float-pass(by)-ASP rock
“The bottle floated past the rock.”
(38) pingzi jin-le dongxue
bottle enter-ASP cave
“The bottle ente re d the cave.”
(39) pingzi chu-le dongxue
bottle exit-ASP cave-inside
“The bottle exit ed the cave.”
(40) pingzi guo-le yanshi
bottle pass-ASP rock
“The bottle passed by the rock.”
From the above illustrations, it appears that Chinese differs
from both satellite-framed languages and verb-framed lan-
guages. In Talmy’s typological classification of motion verbs,
in addition to his tripartite classification, i.e., Motion + Path
(verb-framed), Motion + Co-event (satellite-framed), and Mo-
tion + Figure, split system and intermixed system of conflation
are also proposed. Based on a preliminary analysis, it appears
that Chinese is neither a split system nor an intermixed system.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
In Chinese action-result verb compounds, V1 conflates Motion
and Co-event, while V2 conflates Motion and Path. Thus Chi-
nese presents a problem for Talmy’s typological classification
of motion verbs since it is both satellite-framed and verb-
framed depending whether we take V1 or V2 as the main verb.
As the author has argued above, V2 is the center of predication
of the action-result verb compounds, and therefore, can be
treated as the main verb. If we take V2 as the main verb, then
Chinese is no longer a satellite-framed language as Talmy has
claimed. It makes more sense to view Chinese as primarily a
verb-framed language and only secondarily a satellite-framed
language. It would be interesting to see if other languages with
action-result verb compounds show the same characteristics as
The current thesis has shown that Chinese and English ex-
hibit a systematic difference in structuring events consisting of
both action and result. This systematic difference can be stated
to the effect that while English structures on the action aspect,
Chinese structures on the result aspect. In the spirit of linguistic
relativism, I would like to view the difference as reflecting
ontological relativity involving events. This ontological relativ-
ity means that English speakers tend to attend relatively more to
the process of an event, but, in contrast, Chinese relatively
more to the result. In other words, while English is an agent-
oriented language, Chinese is a patient-oriented language.
The ontological relativity suggested here is an extension of
ontological relativity articulated by the philosopher Quine
(1969). His well-known Gavagai example has illustrated two
alternative ontological beliefs the speakers can hold about the
referents of nouns. One is for nouns to refer to the “bodies” of
objects, the other to the “materials” of objects. This difference
has already been reflected in the semantic contrast between
count and mass nouns in English. Yet, in terms of the linguistic
relativity hypothesis, there is no distinction between count and
mass nouns; that is, all nouns in classifier languages can be
treated as mass nouns. Thus, in classifier languages, nouns are
not inflected for plural and cannot be counted without the ac-
companiment of classifiers. In addition, bare nouns can indicate
either definite or indefinite reference, depending on context. In
other words, nouns in classifier languages denote materials or
substances, non-discrete and unbounded, while in English and
other European languages, they denote objects with discrete
boundaries. This hypothesis, if it is to be tested for the cogni-
tive consequences of linguistic relativity, would predict that
native speakers of classifier languages would give prominence
to material or substance, while native speakers of English and
other European languages would give prominence to bodies.
Lucy (1992) designed an experiment to show that the mass
noun hypothesis does have a cognitive consequence. The clas-
sifier language he used to contrast with English was Yucatec
Maya. His subjects were ten Maya men and thirteen US Men.
Subjects were presented with a triad of objects. Each triad con-
sisted of an original object and alternative objects. The results
show that English speakers overwhelmingly classify objects on
the basis of shape, while Yucatec speakers overwhelmingly
classify objects on the basis of material s. Cognitive differences
induced by classifiers are further demonstrated in Zhang and
Schmitt (1998). Their experiments showed that Chinese speak-
ers, relative to English speakers, judged objects sharing a clas-
sifier as more similar than objects not sharing a classifier and
were more likely to recall them in clusters. From these two sets
of experiments, it appears that language can affect certain types
of cognition, if not thought as a whole. It is therefore worth
exploring the question of whether the pervasive patterning of
action-result schemas with the result as the center of informa-
tion in Chinese can also affect certain aspects of cognitionor
more specifically, conceptualization of reality, thus making us
see the essence by the phenomenon.
The thesis lays great emphasis on how languages reflect peo-
ple’s different ways of conceptualizing the world and based on
the study of Chinese and English verb-resultatives, it also attain
some meaningful achievements. But the model described in the
thesis only offers a very general guideline for similar studies.
Since language and cognition involve so many elements and
factors, there is a great unpredictability about the problems that
may crop up. Nevertheless, one thing we can be sure of is that
the problems are definitely more complicated and diverse than
those that c an be covered in one t hesis. In addit ion, this research
is done in a relatively small scale without exploring and ana-
lyzing relevant language materials exhaustively. If further re-
search can be done in a larger scale with more materials in-
cluded, it will be a big improvement on the current study. Be-
sides, the similarity and difference between RVC constructions
and resultative-de constructions are not discussed. Resultative-
de constructions are more analytic (in form) and more trans-
parent (in meaning) than RVC constructions. Their comparison
is a topic worthy of exploring.
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