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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton June 27, 2013

A corpus-based variationist approach to bei passives in Mandarin Chinese

Hongjie Guo and Daryl Chow


This article aims to explore the diachronic change and synchronic variation of passive constructions in Mandarin Chinese by combining the variationist sociolinguistic approach and the comparative method of historical linguistics. In particular, this study contributes to the literature on cross-linguistic grammaticalization by illustrating how Mandarin bei passives have evolved diachronically with possible respect to English. Based on 3,414 tokens of passive constructions from three comparable corpora across two significant time periods in Chinese linguistic history, the findings of our study reveal that the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic constraints on the bei passive in modern Mandarin Chinese have changed significantly from the era in which there was no contact with English. The empirical methods used in our study (multivariate analysis and the quantitative comparison of various Chinese varieties) lend credence to our findings that change and variation of bei passives can be ascribed to the influence of English at least to a certain extent. Our results suggest that this cross-linguistic contact might have contributed to the grammaticalization of the morpheme bei as well as the process of passivization in Mandarin Chinese.

Published Online: 2013-6-27

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston