A syntactic approach to the grammaticalization of the modal markers in Middle Chinese: the modal dāng 當

  • Barbara Meisterernst
Keywords: Middle Chinese, grammaticalization, modality


The objective of this paper is to demonstrate that the grammaticalization of modals in Chinese can provide cross-linguistic evidence for grammaticalization as an upward movement from the lexical layer to a functional category comparable to what has been proposed for Indo-European modals in Roberts and Roussou (e.g. 2002, 2003) and many others. To this purpose, I discuss the grammaticalization of the Chinese modal verb dāng 當 ‘should’ from a lexical verb into a deontic modal marker and a future marker within the framework proposed in Roberts and Roussou (2002). Modals in Modern Chinese tend to be polysemous; Tsai (e.g. 2008, 2015) accounts for this polysemy by proposing the cartographic approach following Rizzi (1997) and Cinque (1999) for Chinese modals. He demonstrates that synchronically, the different modal readings are generated in different syntactic layers which roughly follow the hierarchy of functional projections proposed in Cinque (1999). In this discussion, I will show that evidence for the existence of a functional category outside vP hosting deontic modality comes from the deontic negative markers of Archaic Chinese, and additionally from the semantic scope of negation (following Cormack and Smith 2002). Evidence for a position for a marker of future tense comes from the existence of a temporal adverb in Late Archaic Chinese which is hosted in the TP layer. Based on the scope of negation, the syntax of wh-adverbials, and the relative order of necessity modals and possibility modals, I will show that the lexical verb dāng ‘match, correspond’ moves from the lexical layer to the functional layer in TP, which hosts deontic modality and/or future tense markers. It will be proposed that after DANG lost its argument structure and grammatialized into a modal auxiliary, it was merged directly in its respective functional projection.