SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Topics in the Structure of Chinese

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1
This module investigates a number of selected grammatical constructions in Mandarin Chinese from the perspective of current linguistic theory. It is designed to extend the linguistics student’s ability by applying theoretical linguistic concepts to details of Chinese structure and to broaden the perspective of students of Chinese by introducing them to linguistic concepts.


Having taken an introductory module to language and linguistics (e.g. 152900069: General Linguistics or equivalent) and having an interest in knowing about the structure of Chinese. Knowledge of Chinese not required.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module students should have gained an analytical understanding of some of the fundamental characteristics of Chinese grammar from the perspectives of descriptive, comparative and formal/theoretical linguistics. They should have some familiarity with the research literature on a number of current issues and should be able to assess and evaluate the methodology, argumentation and evidence presented in support of alternative analyses. They will have used both linguistics and Chinese language resources and tools in their own investigation and analysis of primary Chinese data and will have developed their oral and written skills in presenting the results of their research.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours of classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

This course is intended to introduce students to the analysis and description of the main grammatical properties of the Chinese language from the linguistic perspective. We will focus on the characteristic features of sentential and phrasal constructions (primarily in Mandarin Chinese) and associated phenomena such as word-formation, classifiers, tense and aspect, modification and word order, information structure and compounding. The relevance of this type of research to areas such as morphology, semantics, typology, syntax-semantics/-pragmatics interfaces is also considered.

Course Outline:

  1. Generals: Chinese languages, dialects, scripts, characters and Romanization(s); corpora and Romanization tools; Schools of grammatical studies; on the major characteristics of Chinese grammar: paucity of inflexion; word-order flexibility; context-dependency. Some consequences.
  2. Argument Structure
  3. The BA-Construction (a special disposal construction)
  4. The BEI-Construction (passives)
  5. Topic construction
  6. Focus construction and focus-sensitive operators
  7. Tense and aspect
  8. QuestionsNoun phrases, classifiers and relative clauses
  9. Negation and negative polarity items

Method of assessment

  • One essay (1,000 words) at 40%
  • One essay (1,500 words) at 60%

Suggested reading

Core Readings
  • Huang, C.-T. James, Y.-H. Audrey Li, Yafei Li (2009) The Syntax of Chinese, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Huang Chu-Ren and Dingxu Shi (2016) A Reference Grammar of Chinese, Cambridge University Press.
Additional Readings

Chan, Sin-Wai. (ed.)(2016) The Routledge Encyclopaedia of the Chinese Language. Routledge.

Chao, Yuen Ren. (2002) Linguistic Essays by Yuen Ren Chao. Beijing: the Commercial Press.

Chao, Yuen Ren. (2011) A Grammar of Spoken Chinese. Beijing: the Commercial Press. New revised edition of A Grammar of Spoken Chinese (1968). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Huang, C. T. James., Li, Y. H. Audrey. and Simpson, Andrew. (eds.) (2014) The Handbook of Chinese Linguistics.  Wiley-Blackwell.

HUANG, Chu-Ren., Zhuo, JING-SCHMIDT., MEISTERERNST, Barbara. (eds.) (2018) The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Applied Linguistics, Routledge.

Wang, William S-Y., and Sun, Chaofen. (eds.) (2015) The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Linguistics. OUP. 

Additional (more general) Works in Chinese (not meant to be read by students but are sometimes referred to in the lectures)

邓思颖 (2011)形式汉语句法学。上海教育出版社。



吕叔湘 (1979)汉语语法分析问题 。北京:商务印书馆。

张斌 (ed.) (2010) 现代汉语描写语法。北京:商务印书馆。

朱德熙  (2000)语法讲义。北京:商务印书馆。

朱德熙 (1980)现代汉语语法研究。北京:商务印书馆。 

*Journal papers, monographs and dissertations related to each topic will be provided/shared weekly.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules