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Department of East Asian Studies

Research Students' Seminars on Second Language Chinese
The plural/collective suffix -men in L2 Chinese

The first seminar of 2011-12 will take place at 4pm on Friday, 3rd Februry, 2012 in Room 7 (ground floor) at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The speaker will be Chang LIU, who will present her PhD project on the plural/collective suffix -men in L2 Chinese (see abstract below).

The Research Students' Seminars on Chinese as a Second Language are held by the L2 Chinese research group of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The aim of these seminars is to provide research students with a platform to discuss recent development in the field, to present their research work and to receive feedback from teaching staff and fellow students. The seminars are supervised by Dr Boping Yuan.

All are welcome!


This presentation will show one part of my ongoing PhD project involving prosody and syntax interface issues in L2 Chinese grammars. The morpheme –men of Chinese can be suffixed to a pronoun or a human noun to make the noun plural or collective. The basic observation is, when attached to pronouns, –men seems to behave like a plural morpheme, while it shows signs of a collective marker when suffixed to proper nouns (e.g. Chao 1968, Lu 1947, Norman 1988). For example, Chao (1968:244-5) summarizes that "[w]ith pronouns, this suffix is a pure pluralizer… [w]ith nouns the suffix –men makes a collective noun of words for persons… Since the result is a collective noun, it cannot be preceded by specific numbers". Obviously, the morpheme –men cannot be suffixed to nouns quite productively like the plural suffix –s in English (Chao 1986, Li and Thompson 1981, Lu 1980, Zhu 1982, Huang et al 2009, among many others). –Men is therefore sometimes simply labelled as a collective marker "referring to wholes" where "several individuals are grouped together relative to the speaker or some other subjective origin" (Iljic 1994:91) instead of a plural marker.

Li (1999) supports the plural analysis of –men, highlighting that one of the fundamental differences between English and Chinese is that Chinese uses classifiers to connect numbers and nouns whereas English does not. She argues that plural morphemes are generated in the same position under the node Number in both classifier language such as Chinese, and non-classifier language such as English, but are realized differently. In other words, both Chinese and English have a Number projection, but in contrast to Chinese, English lacks a Classifier projection.

Tsai and Feng (2006) further highlight that some prosodic conditions, especially whether –men is located immediately before a pause, are the key to understand the syntactically unexplained ungrammatical sentences. According to them, the nuclear stress in Chinese is assigned to the rightmost argument within the last VP, and is ONLY assigned to an argument, therefore when a toneless –men occurs in the position where the nuclear stress is assigned, the fact that -men should not be stressed violates the Nuclear Stress Rule, resulting in an awkward-sounding sentence that is usually regarded as completely unacceptable to native speakers.

For further information, contact:

Ziyin Mai
PhD Student, Chinese Studies
Department of East Asian Studies