Third International Workshop on Syntactic Cartography (IWSC2019)

Written by Keith Tse (Ronin Institute, New York)

On what has been a regular fixture in the past few years, the biennial Third International Workshop on Syntactic Cartography (IWSC-3) took place on the 26th-27th October 2019 at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) which happened at the end of Open Access Week in China and was preceded by a separate yet related workshop called ‘Changing Boundaries’ on the 25th. This year’s joint event had a special significance as it was the first IWSC to take place at BLCU after the establishment and inauguration of their Linguistics Department which was celebrated in a similar event at the end of October 2018 (to which the author was also invited to present a poster), and these three days were marked by an impressive number of keynote and invited speakers as well as many local and external presenters who assembled from all around the world to take part in what was to be a rich and dynamic academic forum on cutting-edge issues in biolinguistics and formal cartography using data from a wide range of languages. After a competitive round of abstract reviewing, I was fortunate enough to have my abstract on Chinese Voice alternation (my native language) selected for oral presentation, and my presentation dealt with the use of two famous morphemes in Chinese ba (把) and bei (被) which are widely known to involve object preposing. Since Wang (1959), ba– and bei-constructions have been identified as parallel constructions, since in both constructions the object of the main lexical verb seems to be raised from its base-generated position in the lower VP to a higher position (object i … PRO i), the copy of which can be resumed by a coreferential pronoun:

1) subject BA object i verb (PRO i) (Feng (2002:148))

e.g. 李四 把 壞蛋        殺-了         (他)

        Lisi ba huaidan    sha-le        ta

        Lisi BA scoundrel kill-PERF him

        ‘Lisi killed the scoundrel.’ (Huang, Li, Li (2009:153))

2) object i BEI subject verb (PRO i) (Feng (2002:148))

e.g. 張三         被   李四  打-了       (他)

       Zhangsan bei  Lisi  da-le        ta

       Zhangsan BEI Lisi  hit-PERF him

       ‘Zhangsan was hit by Lisi.’ (Huang, Li, Li (2009:112))

Despite the voluminous work that has been done on Chinese ba and bei-constructions (see Li (2006) and Li (1993) respectively), mainstream movement analyses (Tsao (1987), Feng (1995), Huang (1999)) do not adequately account for their empirical complexities, and my new proposal is that ba and bei are light verb projections denoting Voice (Active and Passive respectively), and the fact that these are merged higher than an optional unaccusative marker gei (給) denoting affectedness (3a-b) (Tang (2001), Cao (2012)) suggests that the preposed object may in fact be merged in an A-position, namely the specifier of gei (Kuo (2010)). In light of the fact that bei can be merged higher than ba which is in turn higher than gei (3c), the cartographic arrangement indicates three distinct A-heads above Asp(ect) to which the lexical verb moves (BEI (Passive) – BA (Active) – GEI (Affect)):

3a) 一-把      火    就      把  阿房-宮           給    廢-了

       yi-ba     huo jiu     ba afang-gong    gei  fei-le

       one-CL fire  then BA afang-palace GEI ruin-PERF

      ‘One torchwas enough to ruin A-fang Palace.’ (Chappell and Shi 2016:471))

3b) 杯子  被    他  給   打-破-了

       beizi bei  ta  gei  da-po-le

       cup   BEI he GEI hit-break-PERF

       ‘The cup got broken by him.’ (adapted from Tang (2001:259))

3c) 他  被    朋友         把  一-個      太太    給  騙-走-了

       ta  bei  pengyou ba yi-ge      taitai  gei  pian-zou-le

       he BEI friend      BA one-CL wife   GEI cheat-go-PERF

       ‘He was cheated of a wife by his friend.’ (Chen (2003:1173))

Due to the tightness of time as there were so many presentations that each presentation was only allocated twenty minutes including Q&A, only one question was allowed for my presentation, and it was made by Professor Marcel den Dikken who asked whether it was possible to use ba and bei with set idioms, and if so, whether this would suggest that the object in the idiom could be raised via movement rather than be generated as new arguments by bei/ba/gei, which might pose as a counter-example to my analysis. This reminded me of Li’s (2006) analysis where she does explicitly use phrasal idioms in Mandarin Chinese (e.g. 佔便宜 ‘to take advantage of’, 開刀 ‘to have an operation’, 幽默 ‘to be humorous’, 小便 ‘to have a pee’) to support her movement analysis as all such idioms are permissible in ba– and, by extension, bei-constructions, though she also recognises that there are constraints on ba-constructions as the raised object must have a certain thematic relationship with the lexical verb which is implicit in gei-insertion, namely affectedness, and this also applies to set idioms (他把便宜(給)佔去了 ‘he took advantage of it’, 他把刀(給)開完了 ‘he finished the operation’, 別把默(給)幽壞了 ‘don’t humour badly’, 你趕快把便(給)小了吧 ‘hurry up peeing’). I pursued this discussion with Professor den Dikken afterwards and discussed some of the technical details with him and Professor Ian Roberts whose first book I cited, and these discussions clarified certain technical details in my analysis. As the invited speakers were invited to the dinner banquet, non-invited presenters such as myself returned to our accommodation, and since most of us stayed at the same hotel in the vicinity of BLCU, I was able to say goodbye to most participants and all speakers upon their sober return from the banquet. I held further discussions with Dr. Joseph Perry and Professor Roberts about the nature of IWSC-3 and how impressed we were by this year’s edition, which is a tribute to the local organisers and all the participants, and as I made my way to the airport, I left our capital feeling not only a sense of mission accomplished but also a job well done. 

I would hence like to place special thanks to members of the Philological Society, especially Professor Klaus Fischer and Professor Peter Austin, for accepting my application to the Martin Burr Fund and to the patrons of the Martin Burr Bequest for their generous sponsorship of my participation in such a prestigious international conference at which I was able to share my research with so many distinguished members of our field. I am now in the process of writing this up for the forthcoming publication of the conference proceedings in which I shall express all my ideas with more clarity and purpose.


Cao, D-G. (2012): ‘ “被” 的雙重語法地位和被字句的生成’. Dangdai Yuyanxue 13(1):73-81. 

Chappell, H. and Shi, D-X. (2016): ‘Major Non-Canonical Clause Types: ba, bei and ditransitives’, in Shi, D-X. and Huang, C-H. (eds), A Reference Grammar of Chinese, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 451-483. 

Chen, P. (2003): ‘Indefinite determiner introducing definite referent: a special use of yi “one” + classifier in Chinese’. Lingua 113(12):1169-1184. 

Feng, S-L. (1995): ‘管約理論與漢語的被動句 (GB theory and passive sentences in Chinese)’. Zhongguo Yuyanxue Luncong 1:1-28. 

Feng, S-L. (2002): ‘韻律結構與把字句的來源 (Prosodic structure and the origin of ba construction)’. In Triskova, H. (ed), Tone, stress and rhythm in spoken Chinese (Journal of Chinese Linguistic Monographs 17), Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, pp. 119-168.

Huang, C-T. (1999): ‘Chinese Passives in Comparative Perspective’. Tsinghua Journal of Chinese Studies 29(4):423-509. 

Huang, C-T., Li, A., Li, Y-F. (2009): The Syntax of Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Kuo, P-J. (2010): ‘Transitivity and the BA construction’. Taiwan Journal of Linguistics 8(1):95-128. 

Li, A. (2006): ‘Chinese Ba’, in Everaert, M. and van Riemsdijk, H. (eds), Blackwell Companion to Syntax: Volume I, pp. 374-468. 

Li, S. (1993): 現代漢語被字句研究 (Xiandai Hanyu Beiziju yanjiu). Beijing: Beijing University Press. 

Tang, S-W. (2001): ‘A complementation approach to Chinese passives and its consequences’. Linguistics 39(2):257-295. 

Tsao, F-F. (1987): ‘A Topic-Comment Approach to the Ba Construction’. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 15:1-54. 

Wang, H. (1959): 把字句和被字句 (Baziju he Beiziju). Shanghai: Shanghai Education Publications.