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Verb reduplication in Mandarin Chinese: A comparison between the AABB and ABAB pattern 



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This study addresses the differences in syntactic and semantic behaviour of two distinct verb reduplication patterns, AABB and ABAB in Mandarin Chinese. I propose that the surface orders of the two patterns are produced by contrasting syntactic structures. The structure for AABB is the result of copying each morpheme (A and B) and then combining them (AA+BB). The structure for the ABAB pattern represents the copying of a complex base AB. The reduplicant morpheme takes the spot of a verbal categorizer that is present in Mandarin Chinese verbs. This reduplicant morpheme attaches to a lower-level root node in the AABB reduplicative process, while it merges with a higher root in the case of the ABAB pattern. Support for this proposal comes from an online experiment that investigated native speakers’ perception and judgment of verb reduplication patterns. The experiment involved a grammaticality judgment task and a fill-in-the-blank task. One hundred and twenty test sentences were constructed containing verbs of each pattern. Eighty-five adult participants took part in the experiment. This study revealed four primary findings, 1) the two patterns differ with respect to the separability where the AABB pattern allows the insertion of the conjunction you ‘and’ (AA-you-BB, e.g., beng-beng-you-tiao-tiao) while the ABAB pattern does not. 2) the two patterns differ in the ability to take a direct object, which accounts for the deverbalization property of AABB as reported in the literature (Qi, 2018). 3) the two patterns have distinct semantic interpretations. The AABB pattern expresses an intensified meaning while the ABAB pattern conveys attenuated meaning as reported in the literature (Arcodia et al., 2014; Melloni & Basciano, 2018). 4) the two patterns vary concerning the compatibility of the perfective marker le. It directly attaches at the end of the AABB pattern (AABB-le, e.g., jin-jin-chu-chu-le). It is inserted in the middle of the ABAB pattern (AB-le-AB, e.g., da-sao-le-da-sao) due to the semantic constraints of le which motivate the movement of the reduplicant morpheme to a phrasal node. The different behaviours thus support the suggested structures.



Chinese, Syntax, Semantics, Mandarin verb reduplication, Reduplicative process, AABB and ABAB, Distributed Morphology



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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