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Noun Phrases in Chinese and English


Noun Phrases in Chinese and English Sources: Chan, Alice Y.W. (2004). Noun Phrases in Chinese and English: A Study of English Structural Problems Encountered by ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Noun Phrases in Chinese and English

Noun Phrases in Chinese and English
  • Sources
  • Chan, Alice Y.W. (2004). Noun Phrases in Chinese
    and English A Study of English Structural
    Problems Encountered by Chinese ESL Students in
    Hong Kong. Language, Culture and Curriculum.
    17(1), 33-47
  • Li, Charles N. Thompson, Sandra A. (1981).
    Mandarin Chinese - A Functional Reference
    Grammar. Los Angeles University of California
  • Swan, Michael (2005). Practical English Usage,
    Third Edition. Oxford University Press
  • Hung T.N. (2005). Understanding English Grammar
    A Course Book for Chinese Learners of English.
    Hong Kong Hong Kong University Press.

1. Personal, Possessive, Plural Pronouns
  • Personal
  • For 3rd person, spoken Chinese does not
    distinguish ta, but written Chinese does.
  • English has different forms (He, she, it etc.)
  • Possessive
  • Chinese adds de (ta de)
  • English has different forms (my, mine, his, hers,
  • Plural
  • Chinese adds men
  • English has different forms (we, us, you, they,

  • Plural possessive
  • Chinese adds both men and de
  • English again has forms (theirs, ours, yours)

  • Chinese pronouns are used more sparingly than
    their English counterparts they are normally
    omitted if their referents are contextually
  • When two consecutive clauses have the same
    subject, the pronoun in either the second clause
    or the first clause is often omitted.
  • Xiao Ming yi hui jia, jiu hui shui jiao.

  • The explicit presence of a pronoun, especially
    the third person pronoun, in the second clause,
    may invite the interpretation that more than one
    participant is involved.
  • Xiao Ming yi hui jia, ta jiu hui shui jiao.
  • After Xiao Ming got home, he (Xiao Ming or
    someone else) went to sleep.

  • The English equivalent of such a sentence,
    however, requires an explicit pronoun to be the
    subject of the respective clause if the clause is
  • After Xiao Ming got home, he went to sleep.

  • When used as an object, the Chinese third person
    singular or plural pronoun is used even more
    rarely. It is only normally used when a person is
    referred to. However, when an animal is referred
    to, it may be included or omitted when the
    reference is inanimate, it is often omitted.
  • Zhe ben shu hen nan dong, dan shi wo hen xi huan.
  • Zhe zhi gou hen tiao pi, dan shi wo hen ai (ta).
  • The English requires the pronoun.
  • This book is difficult to read, but I like it
    just the same. - or -
  • This book is difficult to read it, but I still
    like it.
  • This dog is quite disobedient, but I like him
    just the same.

2. Number
  • Both English and Chinese nouns are divided into
    countable (count) and uncountable (mass) nouns.
  • English countable nouns are made plural by adding
    a pluralizer.
  • English uncountable nouns do not change when they
    become plural unless they refer to different
    kinds, or to units that are obvious in the
    situation, e.g. cheese, cheeses,
  • Just as with pronouns, Chinese adds men, however
    not in all cases. It is only suffixed to pronouns
    and nouns denoting human beings to give definite
    reference, e.g. wo women.

  • With common plural nouns, especially when
    plurality is indicated by the presence of other
    plural indicators such as zhe xie (these), suo
    you (all), or quan bu (whole class), the plural
    marker is often optional.
  • qing gao su quan bu tong xue (men) ming tian bu
    yong shang ke.
  • When number is clearly indicated by the presence
    of numerals, the marker is not used at all.
  • you san wei tong xue zai ke shi li chang ge.

  • Non-human nouns, be they animate or inanimate, do
    not take men to mark plurality.
  • kuai ba dian nao men na zou.

3. Case
  • English nouns have a common case and a genitive
  • English pronouns, on the other hand, are
    distinguished by the subjective case (e.g. I, we,
    he) and the objective case (e.g. me, us, him).
  • Chinese has both the common and genitive case but
    does not contain subjective or objective case.

  • In many languages, including English and Chinese,
    there exists an intimate relationship between the
    case of pronouns and word order, in such a way
    that the case relationship subject of is
    usually signalled by preverbal position, while
    the relationship direct object of tends to
    follow the verb.
  • Thus, the following pairs of sentences with the
    same constituents but different word orders
    (hence different cases for the pronouns) are
    different in meaning.
  • ta men yao na xie gou.
  • They bite those dogs
  • na xie gou yao ta men.
  • Those dogs bite them.

4. Noun Phrases (NP)
  • The only obligatory element of a noun phrase is
    the head noun
  • English (determiner) (pre-modifier) head
  • Chinese (determinernumeral) (associative
    phrase) (classifier) (pre-modifier) head

4.1 Determiners
  • English
  • Articles a, an, the
  • Demonstratives this, that, these, those
  • Countable nouns must have a determiner a book,
    the car
  • Chinese no articles equivalent to English
  • Yi may be used as an indefinite article to refer
    to an indefinite person or thing
  • Yi ge ren
  • But it is often optional
  • You (yi) ge ren zai men wai deng ni
  • The most commonly used determiners in Chinese are
    the demonstratives zhei and nei which are used as
    deictic functions pointing or referring back to
    noun phrases mentioned in the the same context.
  • Ta zhu zai zheige fangzi.

  • Linguistics. Of or relating to a word, the
    determination of whose referent is dependent on
    the context in which it is said or written. In
    the sentence I want him to come here now, the
    words I, here, him, and now are deictic because
    the determination of their referents depends on
    who says that sentence, and where, when, and of
    whom it is said.
  • Deictic. (n.d.) In
    Retreived 2 March 2009, from http//www.thefreedi

4.2.1 Chinese associative phrases
  • NP may be introduced by associative phrases
    formed by adding de to a nouns phrase
  • This indicates that the NP before the de is
    associated or connected with the Head noun
  • Wo de yi fu

4.2.2 English possessive determiners (PD)
  • Possessive determiners my, your, his hers, ours,
  • English requires the use of a PD in imperatives,
    but the corresponding Chinese imperatives
    normally do not have one as long as the referent
    is contextually clear.
  • Remove your coat
  • Ba (ni de) da yi tuo xia lai

4.3 Classifiers
  • Chinese classifiers (measure words) must occur
    with a number/quantifier and or demonstrative
    before the head noun in a NP.
  • If you translate directly from English without a
    classifier, your sentence will be incorrect
  • Yi bi
  • yi xue sheng
  • English countable nouns can be used directly with
    numbers student, house car
  • E. Uncountable (mass) nouns require a measure
    word to render them countable. Chinese?
  • A school of fish. A drop of water. A glass of

4.4.1 English Modifiers
  • Pre-modifiers
  • Pre-modifiers can be adjectives
  • A big house.
  • Classifying nouns
  • A paper box
  • Post modifiers
  • Prepositional phrases
  • The man in the water is...
  • Relative clauses (pronouns who, whose, which)
  • The girls who are sitting over there (finite)
  • The girls sitting over there (non-finite)

4.4.2 Chinese modifiers
  • Post modifiers are adjectives just like English
  • Yi ge hao hai zi
  • Relative Clauses in Chinese are significantly
    different from their English counterparts because
    they are pre-modifying rather than post-modifying
  • ???????
  • ??????????
  • ??????????????

5. Syntactic functions
  • English NP serve as a subject, direct object,
    indirect object, subject or object compliment or
    prepositional compliment, and also sometimes as
  • Chinese NP serve the same functions as their
    English counterparts. However, they can also
    serve as topics in the topic comment structure.
  • ??? ?????????

6. Topic-Comment structure in Chinese
  • Called topic prominence by Li (pgs. 15-16) and
    discussed by Hung (pgs. 83-84).
  • It functions as a noun phrase and serves as the
    topic, not the subject of a Chinese sentence.
  • This results in errors like the following
  • ?????????
  • Mr. Zhang, I've already see (him).
  • ????
  • Letter write already.
  • ??????
  • ?????
  • ??,?????????? (http//
    2-09/13/content_6496.htm )

7. Relative pronouns
  • Because relative pronouns do not exists in
    Chinese, choosing the correct relative pronouns
    is very difficult for the Chinese learners
    because the correct choice depends on its
    grammatical function in the sentence
  • Tamen dai ta dao cao chang, you yong chi he ge
    zhong you qu de di fang.
  • They brought her to playground, swimming pool
    and various places where is interesting.
  • They took her to the playground, swimming pool
    and various other places which were interesting.
  • Distinctions between humans and non-humans must
    be learned
  • Ta shi wo mu qin, (ta) shi wo sheng ming zhong
    zui zhong yao de ren
  • She is my mother which (who) is the most
    important person in my life.

8. Resumptive pronouns
  • Associated with the use of relative clauses is
    the unnecessary repetition of a pronoun in a
    relative structure as in the following
  • Ta shi wo de lao shi, ta qu nian jiao wo yu fa.
  • She is the teacher that she taught me grammar
    last year.
  • She is the teacher who taught me grammar last

9. Missing relative pronouns
  • Sometimes relative pronouns are omitted from
    relative clauses (again, because they don't exist
    in Chinese)
  • ??????????
  • You are the first person (who) came to Hong
  • ?????????????
  • There is only one people look after my whole
  • There is only one peron who looked after me for
    my whole life.

  • While a relative pronoun is required in the above
    sentences, Chinese learners tend to omit it,
    resulting in a serial verb construction (Li p.
  • Example? Next slide
  • The fact that Chinese allows serial verb
    constructions, coupled with the absence of
    relative pronouns in a relative structure, may
    explain why many Chinese students encounter
    problem in learning English relative structures.

10. Serial verbs constructions
  • Serial verb constructions are constructions with
    two or more verb phrases or clauses juxtaposed
    without any marker indicating what the
    relationship is between them. These constructions
    are common in Chinese but incorrect in English
  • Ta shang lou shui jiao
  • He goes upstairs sleep
  • Wo men ying gai xiao xin bu sheng bing
  • We should be careful not get sick.

  • The problem of missing relatives can also be
    linked to the reduced relative clause structure
    in English
  • Students who encounter sentence with reduced
    relative clauses such as
  • I read your book published in 1999
  • I met the parents participating in the interview
  • might be misled into believing that finite verbs
    such as came and look can be used without a
    relative pronoun.
  • The finite forms of a verb are the forms where
    the verb shows tense, person or singular/plural.
    I go, she goes, he went
  • Non-finite verb forms have no person, tense or
    number. The infinitive and present and past
    participles are the non-finite parts of a verb
    to go, going

11. Missing Verbs
  • The reduced relative clause in English is
    probably also involved with the lack of finite
    verbs in the relative clauses of sentences such
    as (see also bottom p. 42)
  • I have a large family which including
    grandmother, grandfather, uncle, my parents and
    also my younger sister.
  • Wo you yi ge da jia ting. (Ta) bao kuo le zu mu,
    zu fu, shu shu, wo de fu mu he wo de mei mei
  • After enjoying our delicious food which cooked
    by my mom, we went to school together.
  • Xiang yong wan mama zuo de ke kou de shi wu yi
    hou wo men yi qi qu shang xue.

12. Head-last relative clauses
  • Since Chinese relative clauses are noun-last
    constructions with pre-modifiers and no
    post-modifiers like English, constructions such
    as below are very likely the result of L1

12.1 Head-last clause mistakes
  • Wo chuan de qun zi fei chang ke ai
  • I wear the dress is very cute.
  • I wear the dress which is very cute.
  • Wo fei chang xi huan ta zhu de dong xi
  • I am very like he cooks things.
  • I really like the food (which) he cooks.
  • Dao 2047 nian wo men dou hui you hui fei de qi
  • In 2047 people will have can flys car
  • In 2047 people will have cars which can fly.

13. Missing subjects
  • As stated earlier (slide 4), Chinese pronouns are
    used much more sparingly than their English
    counterparts, especially when the referent is
    deducible from the context. This leads to Chinese
    learners writing sentences with subjects missing
    like the following
  • Wo ren wei wo sheng ming zhong zui zhong yao de
    ren bu shi yi ge, er shi wo de quan jia.
  • I think my most important person in my life is
    not one, is my family.
  • Wo tai xiao le, suo yi bu neng wan zhe ge.
  • I was too small so cannot play this.

Concluding remarks
  • Pedagogical Implications