SUI Na, HU Jianhua. The Syntax of the Function Word Kan (see) in Chinese——An English-Chinese Comparative Perspective[J]. Journal of Foreign Languages, 2024, 47(3): 2-14.
Citation: SUI Na, HU Jianhua. The Syntax of the Function Word Kan (see) in Chinese——An English-Chinese Comparative Perspective[J]. Journal of Foreign Languages, 2024, 47(3): 2-14.

The Syntax of the Function Word Kan (see) in ChineseAn English-Chinese Comparative Perspective

  • This paper studies the syntax and semantics of the function word kan ‘see’ in the “VP+kan+S+Q” construction (i.e. the kan-construction) in Mandarin Chinese from an English-Chinese comparative perspective. Tian & Xu (2017) claim that kan in this construction has fully grammaticalized into a functional category, namely a complementizer which introduces an indirect interrogative clause. In this paper, we show that their account is not supported by the facts and is thus untenable. First, kan and the interrogative structure following it do not form a constituent. Second, verbs like xiangzhidao ‘wonder’, huaiyi ‘doubt’ etc. which typically select interrogative clauses as their complements cannot co-occur with kan in this kind of construction. Third, when kan is present, the main verb can take the reduplicated form, but cannot occur with aspectual markers like –le or –guo. This kind of morphosyntactic property of kan would fail to be accounted for if it is treated as a complementizer taking an interrogative structure as its complement. We argue that kan is a sentence-final particle expressing tentative meaning. Syntactically, it is a functional head Moodtentative in the CP domain, taking IP as its complement (Sui & Hu 2019). The embedded interrogative structure is base-generated in the complement position of the main verb and then moved and adjoined to the MoodtentativeP via extraposition. Under our analysis, the morphosyntactic property of kan can be easily captured, and the fact that declarative sentences, or noun phrases are usually excluded from the post-kan position can be well explained.
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