Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros31An Unbridgeable Gap? The Treatmen...

An Unbridgeable Gap? The Treatment of Definiteness Restrictions in French and Chinese Presentational Constructions

La restriction de la définitude dans les constructions présentatives en français et en chinois : divergences et points communs
Ludovica Lena

Résumés

Sur la base d’un corpus parallèle – composé de deux sous-corpus écrit et oral –, cette étude adopte une perspective contrastive pour explorer l’(éventuelle) équivalence entre les constructions en il y a du français avec un pivot défini et les constructions en yǒu du chinois. Nous montrons que la plupart des constructions en il y a apparaissent dans des contextes énumératifs. Le chinois écrit utilise d’autres stratégies pour assurer la cohérence textuelle et pour marquer l’inclusion du « pivot » dans un groupe référentiel donné (ex. le verbe lexical bāokuò « inclure »). Dans le sous-corpus parlé, la construction en yǒu est la stratégie la plus fréquente, mais elle est en concurrence avec la construction avec shì « être » lorsqu’un locatif est ouvertement exprimé. Les emplois présentatifs et événementiels de il y a s’observent principalement dans le sous-corpus parlé et s’alignent plus clairement avec les constructions en yǒu. Dans l’ensemble, la présente étude soutient que les différences entre les deux langues sont plus nuancées qu’il n’y paraît à première vue, montrant que la correspondance entre le statut cognitif des référents et le marquage formel de la définitude n’est pas univoque. Les pivots du chinois formellement non marqués peuvent être sémantiquement définis malgré leur position postverbale. En même temps, les pivots définis du français ne dénotent pas toujours des référents identifiables, comme c’est le cas des emplois faibles de l’article défini mais aussi de certains usages marqués des déterminants démonstratifs.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

  • 1 See for instance Karssenberg, 2018; Carlier & Lahousse, forth. The term “cleft” is genera (...)

1This study focuses on the forms called “presentational” in French and in Chinese, of which examples are provided in [1]. The label is motivated by the main discourse function of these constructions, which is that of calling “the attention of an addressee to the hitherto unnoticed presence of some person or thing in the speech setting” (Lambrecht, 1994: 39; see Li & Thompson, 1981: 509 on Chinese). In the literature, monoclausal constructions (e.g. [1a-b], [2a], [3b]) are generally named “existential sentences” (McNally, 2011; Koch, 2012; Bentley et al., 2013, 2015; Creissels, 2019, among many others; see Sarda & Lena, forth., for a recent review), while biclausal constructions (e.g. [2b], [3a]), are more often labelled “presentational clefts”, at least in the literature on French1.

  • 2 The parallel corpus collected for this study, along with its subcorpora, is described in (...)
[1a] Évidemment, il y avait un léger problème.
  of.course itEXPL there have.pst.3sg a.m light problem
  Lit. ‘Of course, there was one tiny problem.’
  (OpenSub)2
[1b] 当然有个小小的问题。
       Dāngrán yǒu ge xiǎoxiǎo de wèntí.
  of.course have cl little sub problem
       ‘Of course there was one tiny problem.’
  (OpenSub)
[2a] Il y avait un homme avec toi.
  itEXPL there have.pst.3sg a.m man with 2sg
  ‘There was a man with you.’
  (OpenSub)
[2b] 还有一个男人和你们在一起。
       Hái yǒu yí-ge nánrén [hé nǐmen zài yīqǐ].
  also have one-cl man with 2pl stay together
       Lit. ‘There was also a man who was with you.’
  (OpenSub)
[3a] Il y a un élément [qui cloche],
  itEXPL there has a.m element rel.s be.wrong.prs.3sg
       dans ton histoire.
  in poss.2sg.sg story
       Lit. ‘There is an element which is wrong, in your story.’
  (OpenSub)
[3b] 在你的故事里有个大漏洞。
       Zài de gùshì=li yǒu ge lòudòng.
  at 2sg sub story=in have cl big hole
       ‘There’s one major hole in your story.’
  (OpenSub)
  • 3 As pointed out by Chappell and Creissels (2019: 487), the possessive use of yǒu is to be (...)

2Il y a-constructions and yǒu-constructions have been a central topic in the research agenda on French and Chinese, respectively. The two forms show striking points of similarity. On a formal level, they both rely on an existential verb built on the copula have, although this appears in the grammaticalised form il y avoir “it there have” in French, which includes the expletive subject il [3sg.m] and the frozen locative adverb y “there”3. As just mentioned, monoclausal constructions coexist with biclausal constructions in the two languages. From a discourse-pragmatic point of view, these forms represent a device often used to introduce new referents into the discourse (see Lena, 2020a, forth.2, for a recent review). However, a major point of divergence is represented by the treatment of the definiteness restrictions.

  • 4 Milsark (1974) distinguishes two basic types of NPs: “weak” NPs which are allowed in exis (...)

3Across languages, one of the main characteristics of existential/presentational constructions is the indefiniteness of the pivot (e.g., a little problem in [1a-b]), and the related impossibility of having a definite noun phrase (NP) in this position (since Milsark, 1974)4. At the same time, exceptions to the definiteness restrictions have been extensively discussed in the relevant literature (Rando & Napoli, 1978; Lumsden, 1988; Abbott, 1993; Ward & Birner, 1995; Leonetti, 2008; Bentley, 2013; Bentley et al., 2013, 2015, among others), with some languages being stricter than others with regard to the possibility of admitting definite pivots (Beaver et al., 2006; Bentley et al., 2015; Creissels, 2019). In this respect, French is particularly “tolerant”, as il y a-constructions, both monoclausal and biclausal, often include definite pivots. Sentences such as the following naturally occur in discourse:

[4a] Tiens, il y a Jean!
  hold.prs.2sg itEXPL there has J.
  Lit. ‘Hey, there is John!’
  (from Creissels, 2019: 40)
[4b] Il y a Jean qui a téléphoné.
  itEXPL there has J. rel.s has call.ptcp
  Lit. ‘There is John who telephoned.’
  (from Lambrecht, 1988: 136)
  • 5 Similar ungrammatical examples are discussed in Xú (2015).

4By contrast, it is well-known that yǒu-constructions do not easily tolerate definite pivots (since Lü, 1985 [1942]: 101). In fact, the literal Chinese translation of French examples such as [4] are ungrammatical5:

[5] *有约翰(打了电话)。
      *Yǒu Yuēhàn (dǎ-le diànhuà).
   have Y. make-pfv phone.call
      *‘There is John (who telephoned).’

5Exceptions to the definiteness constraint have been identified in Chinese as well. Li (1996) argued that two types of yǒu-constructions should be identified, one introducing a new entity (example [2b]) and the other asserting the existence of an event (example [6a]), with definiteness restrictions being relevant only in the former. Hu and Pan (2007) discussed the role of focalizing adverbs such as hái “also” in [6b] – which is reminiscent of the neutralization of definiteness restrictions identified in the so-called “list reading” use of existential sentences (see 4.2.1) – or zhǐ “only” in [6c]: “what is unnoticed in the literature is that, although it is generally excluded from the post-you position, a definite NP can occur there if a focus particle is introduced into the relevant sentences” (Hu & Pan, 2007: 134). Cai (2000) and Xia (2009) report on the contexts that allow definite pivots within the yǒu-construction, showing that these are rarely found in main clauses. When this is the case, they are strongly context-dependent and cannot stand in isolation [6d].

[6a] 如果有张三/那个老板来,我们就可以马上解决问题了。
       Rúguǒ yǒu Zhāngsān / nà-ge lǎobǎn lái,
  if have Z. that-cl boss come
       wǒmen jiù kěyǐ mǎshàng jiějué wèntí le.
  1pl then can immediately solve problem crs
       ‘If there was Zhangsan / that boss coming, we could solve the problem right away.’
  (Li, 1996: 178)
[6b] 还有那个人/张三。
       Hái yǒu nèi-ge rén   / Zhāngsān.
  also have that-cl person Z.
       ‘There’s also that person / Zhangsan.’
  (Hu & Pan, 2007: 134)
[6c] 眼里只有你。
       Yǎn=li zhǐ yǒu .
  eye=in only have 2sg
       ‘There’s only you in [my] eyes.’
  (Retrieved from a WeChat commercial)
[6d] 金姑:我上不了树。高振义:有我托着你。
       Jīn Gū: Wǒ shàng-bu-liǎo shù.
  J.G. 1sg go.up-neg-psb tree
       Gāo Zhènyì: Yǒu tuō-zhe nǐ.
  G.Z. have 1sg support-dur 2sg
       Lit. ‘Jin Gu: “I can’t climb the tree.” Gao Zhenyi: “There’s me supporting you.”’
  (Cai, 2000: 95)

6Despite these exceptions, it is generally assumed that in the vast majority of contexts only weak determiners such as indefinite NPs can occupy the pivot position (e.g. [1b]). Lena (2020a) analysed a semi-spontaneous corpus of spoken Chinese and found that the pivots in biclausal yǒu-constructions strongly tend to be indefinite. Monoclausal yǒu-constructions, on the other hand, can include definite pivots in list-reading contexts. In the following example, the second pivot has a possessive determiner, and hence it denotes a highly accessible referent (Ariel, 2002) (note that focalising adverbs need not to be expressed):

[7] 家里情况也挺好的,呵。有一老人,有我爱人,有两个小孩儿。嗯,爱人有工作,小孩也工作啦。
      Jiāli qíngkuàng tǐng hǎo de, hē.
  home situation also very good sub int
      Yǒu lǎorén, yǒu àirén,
  have one.cl old.person have 1sg partner
      yǒu liǎng-ge xiǎoháir. Ǹg, àirén yǒu gōngzuò,
  have two-cl child int partner have job
      xiǎoháir gōngzuò la.
  child also work sfp.crs
      Lit. ‘At home the situation is very good too, huh. There is an elderly person, there is my partner, there are two children. [My] partner has a job, the children also work.’
  (BJKY semi-spontaneous spoken corpus, Lena, 2020a: 41-42)

7On the basis of elicited spoken narratives based on a filmed stimulus, Lena (2020b) found that French speakers can use the il y a-construction to reintroduce discourse-old referents (example [8a]), while Chinese speakers do not assign such function to the yǒu-construction. Hence, sentences such as [8b], uttered by a French learner of Chinese, are not accepted by native speakers.

[8a] Il y a la fille qui l’ attend à la sortie.
  itEXPL there has the.f.sg girl who him wait.prs.3sg at the exit
  Lit. ‘There is the girl waiting for him at the exit.’
[8b] *有这个女人等他。
       *Yǒu zhè-ge nǚrén děng tā.
   have this-cl woman wait 3sg
       Int. ‘There is this woman waiting for him.’

8The purpose of the present study is to examine in detail the (lack of) correspondence between the presentational structures of the two languages, taking as the starting point the French il y a-construction including a definite pivot. Before turning to the results of the contrastive analysis, a note on the marking of (in)definiteness distinctions in Chinese is necessary.

2. (In)definiteness marking in Chinese

  • 6 On accessibility and identifiability, see for instance Prince, 1981; Ariel, 1990; Gun (...)

9Contrary to French, Chinese is an article-less language, which thus relies on different strategies to mark (in)definiteness oppositions. Leaving aside its non-referential uses, the [(numeral +) classifier] sequence (e.g. yí-ge lièrén “a hunter” in [8]), is typically used to express unanchored unidentifiable referents (LaPolla, 1995; Chen, 2003), that is, prototypical (quantified) new referents – the ones marked by the indefinite article in languages such as English and French6. By contrast, nouns modified by demonstrative determiners zhè “this” and  “that” are used to encode identifiable referents, that can be in one of the three activation states – active, accessible or inactive – according to LaPolla (1995). The NP zhè-zhi gǒu “this dog” in [9] (from Chen, 2004: 1153) points to an activated referent thus offering an example of the anaphoric use of the demonstrative determiner:

[9] 有一个猎人…养着一只狗。这只狗很懂事。
      Yǒu yí-ge lièrén… yǎng-zhe yì-zhi gǒu.
  have one-cl hunter keep-dur one-cl dog
      Zhè-zhi gǒu hěn dǒngshì.
  this-cl dog very intelligent
      ‘There was a hunter who had a dog. The dog was very intelligent.’

10Although demonstrative determiners in Chinese are “the closest to definite articles in other languages” (Chen, 2004: 1151), the two are not equivalent. While serving all the typical functions of demonstratives (situational in [10], discourse deictic in [11] and contrastive anaphoric in [12]), zhè “this” and  “that” can be used in contexts where demonstratives (say, in languages like English) are not allowed: non-contrastive anaphoric in [9], shared knowledge in [13], frame-based association in [14] (the following examples are from Chen, 2004: 1151–1153):

[10] 请把这⁄那张椅子搬到那间房间去。
       Qǐng zhè/nà-zhāng yǐzi bān-dào nà-jiān fángjiān qù.
  please acc this/that-cl chair move-to that-cl room go
       ‘Please move this/that chair to that room.’
[11] 他想回去? 这你可不能答应。
       xiǎng huíqù? Zhè bùnéng dāyìng.
  he want return this you surely cannot agree
       ‘He wants to go back? You surely cannot give your permission to that.’
[12] 一个小孩子碰到了一个女孩子…这个时候,这个小孩子又看了那个女孩子,看了一眼。
       Yí-ge xiǎoháizi… lù=zhong de shíhòu ne, pèngdào-le
  one-cl kid road=middle sub time paus run.into-pfv
       yí-ge nǚháizi… zhè-ge shíhòu, zhè-ge xiǎoháizi yòu
  one-cl girl this-cl time this-cl kid again
       kàn-le nà-ge nǚháizi, kàn-le yǎn.
  look-pfv that-cl girl look-pfv one eye
       ‘A kid in the middle of the road ran into a girl… this time the kid had another look at the girl.’
[13] 这天气真怪十二月了可一点不冷。
       Zhè tiānqì zhēn guài shí’èr yuè le yìdiǎn bù lěng.
  this weather really strange twelve month crs but bit not cold
       ‘The weather is really strange. It is December now, but it is not cold at all.’
[14] 他买了一辆旧车,那轮胎都磨平了。
       mǎi-le yí-liang jiù chē, lúntāi dōu píng le.
  he buy-pfv one-cl old car that tire even wear flat crs
       ‘He bought an old car. All the tires are worn out.’

11At the same time, uses characteristic of fully grammaticalised definite articles (e.g., shared knowledge and frame-based association) “are exceptional rather than the norm” with Chinese demonstratives (Chen, 2004: 1156). Crosthwaite et al. (2018) found that Chinese speakers more often use bare nouns when establishing bridging reference (i.e., frame-based anaphora relations, as in war…soldier[+DEF]) (see also Lena, 2020b).

12Besides nouns that are formally marked (either by a classifier or by a demonstrative) Chinese speakers can make use of bare nouns as referring expressions. These present the highest degree of ambiguity, given that they can designate unidentifiable, inactive, accessible and active referents (LaPolla, 1995: 305, see also Huang, 2013: chap. 5). Between accessible referents, bare nouns can denote deictically (situationally) identifiable referents and uniquely identifiable referents (Cheng & Sybesma, 1999: 510; Chen, 2004: 1165).

[15] 狗要过马路。
       Gǒu yào guò mǎlù.
  dog want cross road
       ‘The dog(s) want to cross the road.’
  (Cheng & Sybesma, 1999: 510)
[16] 月亮升上来了。
       Yuèliàng shēng-shang-lai le.
  moon rise-up-come crs
       ‘The moon has risen.’
  (Chen, 2004: 1165)

13It has been noted that the interpretation of bare nouns is influenced by their syntactical contexts, and they are generally interpreted as indefinite in the postverbal position (Chao, 1968: 76; Li & Thompson, 1981: 510; Xu, 1995; Hole, 2012: 61). In Hole’s (2012: 61) terms:

bare nouns constitute an especially interesting domain of investigation because they contain no functional morphemes indicating their status as given or new. Despite the lack of definiteness marking, bare nouns display definiteness effects in some syntactic environments. The first such effect concerns subjects vs. objects. Bare nouns in a non-subject (and non-topical) position are typically interpreted as indefinite (unless they denote inherently definite entities), whereas they are invariably definite in the subject position preceding the verb.
(Hole, 2012: 61)

14The crucial point here is that bare nouns which have a unique reference do not change their interpretation when appearing as the pivots of a yǒu-construction, and thus are semantically definite even though they are formally unmarked with respect to definiteness, and despite their postverbal position.

3. The data

15The study relies on a parallel corpus of French-Chinese aligned sentences built via the Sketch Engine software. Two subcorpora within the OPUS27 corpus were selected, i.e. the Opensubtitles8 corpus (hereafter OpenSub), consisting of the aligned translations of film subtitles, and the MultiUN corpus, which is a collection of translated documents from the United Nations. The first is representative of the spoken language while the latter reflects the written register. The following French sequences were extracted:

[17] [Il + yavoir (…0-4) + {def.art / dem / poss / pro / Proper name} (±RelativeClause)]
  • 9 The French subcorpus contains 40/136 (29.4%) occurrences of il y a-construction including (...)

16French definite pivots are nouns modified by a definite article (le/la/les), a demonstrative determiner (ce/cette/ces) or a possessive determiner (mon/ma/mes), as well as personal pronouns (e.g., moi “me”) and proper names. The search in [17] left open the possibility of obtaining both monoclausal and biclausal il y a-constructions (i.e., constructions including a relative clause [RC], as in [3a])9. Specifically, the data consists of all sentences identified in the OpenSub corpus (n = 68) and an equivalent number of items extracted from the MultiUN corpus (random sample). This resulted in a total of 136 sentences per language, after noise elimination.

17It should be stressed that, as the starting point is the French construction, the Chinese aligned sentences do not necessarily include a yǒu-construction.

4. Results

4.1. Distribution of pivot types in the French il y a-constructions

18Table 1 illustrates the definite pivot types in French il y a-constructions.

Table 1 – French: distribution of definite pivot types

Pivot types Count %
Definite article + N 94 69.1%
Demonstrative determiner + N 16 11.7%
Proper name 11 8.0%
Definite article + Proper name 6 4.4%
Personal pronoun 4 2.9%
Possessive determiner + N 4 2.9%
Demonstrative pronoun 1 0.7%
Total 136 100%
  • 10 In an additional 4 examples (4% of il y a-constructions including a pivot modified by a (...)
  • 11 Such general nouns are labelled “low-content nouns” in Bolinger (1977: 5-6), (...)

19Most pivots are represented by nouns modified by the definite article (69.1%; raising to 73.5% when proper names introduced by the definite article are also considered), as shown in Table 1 above. Among these forms, 34 instances (34% of the pivots with a definite article) are represented by a NP of the type [N1 sub N2], in which the definite marking is provided by the N2, which plays an identifying role and contributes to restrict the reference of the N1 (e.g. [18a])10. These forms typically correspond in Chinese to bare-head NPs (as in [18b]). The N1 modified by the definite article can be a general noun (e.g., question “question”, problème “problem”, cas “case”), as in [19a]11. Note that while the use of the indefinite article is not felicitous in French [19a’], Chinese can express such NPs by means of quantified indefinite nouns [19b].

[18a] Premièrement, il y a le principe de
  firstly itEXPL there has the.m.sg principle of
         l’ égalité souveraine des États.
  the equality sovereign of.the.pl States
         Lit. ‘First, there is the principle of the sovereign equality of States.’
  (MultiUN)
[18b] 第一个原则是国家的主权平等。
         Dìyí-ge yuánzé shì guójiā de zhǔquán píngděng.
  first-cl principle be State sub sovereignty equality
         Lit. ‘The first principle is the sovereign equality of States.’
  (MultiUN)
[19a] Enfin, il y a la question de l’ égalité
  finally itEXPL there has the.f.sg question of the equality
         entre les hommes et les femmes.
  between the.pl men and the.pl women
         ‘Finally, there is the issue of equality between women and men.’
  (MultiUN)
[19a’] ??Il y a une question de l’ égalité
      itEXPL there has a.f question of the equality
         entre les hommes et les femmes.
  between the.pl men and the.pl women
         Lit. ‘There is an issue of equality between women and men.’
[19b] 最后,还有一个男女之间平等的问题。
         Zuìhòu, hái yǒu yí-ge nánnǚ
  finally also have one-cl men.and.women
         zhījiān píngděng de wèntí.
  between equality sub problem
         Lit. ‘Finally, there is also an issue of equality between men and women.’
  (MultiUN)

20In the following example [20a], the use of the definite article before voiture “car” is clearly triggered by the complement de quelqu’un “of somebody” and is not motivated semantically (Milsark’s [1974: 6] “crypto-indefinites”, discussed in Meulleman, 2012: 39). The use of an indefinite classified pivot in the Chinese aligned yǒu-construction does not entail a substantial change in meaning (example [20b]).

[20a] Faites vous voler votre voiture, elle sera revendue en pièces dans cet atelier, vous pouvez voir ça,
         il y a la voiture de quelqu’un dedans.
  itEXPL there has the.f.sg car of someone there inside
         ‘You have a car hijacking, there’s a chop shop there, you can see that, that (lit. there)’s somebody’s car in there.’
  (OpenSub)
[20b] 你可以看那里有一辆车。
         kěyǐ kàn nàli yǒu yí-liang chē.
  2sg can see there have one-cl car
         Lit. ‘You can see there’s a car there.’
  (OpenSub)

21In other cases, the definite article is used to denote uniquely identifiable referents (that is, a referent which is identifiable independently from the discourse structure or the extra-linguistic setting):

[21] En effet, à la base de l’ organisation administrative,
  in fact at the base of the organisation administrative
        il y a le Fokontany qui est la subdivision
  itEXPL there has the.m.sg F. rel.s is the subdivision
        administrative de base de la commune.
  administrative of base of the.f.sg commune
        Lit. ‘Indeed, at the base of the administrative organisation, there is the Fokontany, which is the basic administrative subdivision of the Commune.’
  (MultiUN)

22The definite article can also modify in French nouns describing uncountable intangible entities or abstract concepts that pertain to general world knowledge such as terrorism, poverty, truth. They cannot be modified by other determiners (cf. [22a] with [22a’]). Such referents are typically expressed by bare nouns in Chinese (example [22b]).

[22a] Oui, je crois qu’ il y a le typhus.
  yes 1sg believe.prs.sg that itEXPL there has the.m.sg typhus
  ‘Yes, I believe there’s typhus.’
  (OpenSub)
[22a’] Je crois qu’ il y a {*un/*du} typhus.
  1sg believe.prs.1sg that itEXPL there has a.m/pa.m.sg typhus
  *‘I believe there’s one/some typhus.’
[22b] 是的,我知道有伤寒病在流行。
         Shìde, zhīdào yǒu shānghánbìng zài liúxíng.
  right 1sg know have typhus prog spread
         Lit. ‘Right, I know there is typhus spreading.’
  (OpenSub)
  • 12 See Lambrecht (1994: 83) on English. Such usage of the demonstrative determiner has bee (...)

23Demonstrative determiners (11.7%) tend to appear in event-reporting il y a-constructions (see 4.2.3), in which they denote discourse-new referents (see [23a]) instead of discourse-old referents (i.e., the prototypical anaphoric function of demonstrative determiners)12. Such referents are encoded by indefinite nouns in the Chinese aligned sentences (within or outside a yǒu-construction). In [23b], a rather marginal formulation (2 instances), the relevant NP appears as an indefinite quantified subject.

[23a] Il y a huit ans il y a ce vieil homme
  ago eight years itEXPL there has this.m old man
         qui est venu me frapper le visage
  rel.s is come.ptcp.m.sg to.me hit.inf the.m.sg face
         devant mon personnel.
  in.front.of poss.1sg.m.sg staff
[23b] 八年前一个老头进来当着我手下的面扇了我耳光。
         nián qián [yí-ge lǎotóu jìn-lái]
  eight year before one-cl old.man enter-come
         dāngzhe shǒuxià de miàn shàn-le ěrguāng.
  facing 1sg leadership sub face box-pfv 1sg ear
         ‘Eight years ago this old man came in and slapped me around in front of my crew.’
  (OpenSub)

24Despite being frequently included in the examples of il y a-constructions provided in the literature (at least on il y a-clefts), proper names are less frequent (8%), as already pointed out by Karssenberg (2018: 99).

[24a] – Je ne suis pas seul. Il y a Sal.
    1sg neg be.prs.1sg neg alone itEXPL there has S.
         – Pour Salvatore? – C’est un tueur. On a fait le Viêtnam. Pour nous, tuer c’est rien.
         ‘I’m not alone. I got (lit. there is) Sal. – Sal, what’s that for, Salvatore? – Yeah. Sal, he’s a killer. We’re Vietnam veterans so killing don’t mean anything to us.’
  (OpenSub)
[24b] 我不是一个人。还有沙尔。
         shì yí-ge rén. Hái yǒu Shā‘ěr.
  1sg neg be one-cl person also have S.
         Lit. ‘I’m not alone. There’s also Sal.’
  (OpenSub)

25Taken together, proper names and personal pronouns – and to a lesser extent possessive determiners – are elements highly ranked in topichood hierarchies (Gundel et al., 1993), and as such these forms are expected to be most strongly banned from Chinese yǒu-constructions.

26The most definite pivots (i.e., all pivot types except the ones modified by definite articles) are predominantly found in the spoken corpus (37 out of 42 occurrences in the OpenSub corpus).

4.2. The functions associated to French il y a-constructions

27The occurrences of il y a-constructions have been classified according to their discourse functions and semantic properties (the labels used in the tables are illustrated in the next subsections). As several parameters can coexist, the numbers in brackets illustrate the total number of occurrences of a given property (Table 2). This is especially true for sentences where the pivot stands in a part-whole relation with a given referential set. Such part-whole relationship often underlies the expression of a list-reading meaning.

Table 2 – The functional classification of French il y a-constructions (both subcorpora)

Functions Count (including overlaps) %
Enumerative Inter-clause list 27 (32) 19.8% (22.7%)
Sentence-level list 16 (35) 11.7% (18.3%)
     Sentence-level list + Inter-clause list 3 2.2%
     Sentence-level list + Locative 3 2.2%
Part-whole 8 (23) 5.8% (16.9%)
     Part-whole + Sentence-level list 13 9.5%
     Part-whole + Inter-clause list 2 1.4%
Locative Locative 20 (24) 14.7% (17.6%)
Locative metaphoric 11 8%
     Locative + Event-reporting 2 1.4%
     Locative + Topic-promoting 2 1.4%
Event-reporting 16 (18) 11.7% (13.2%)
Topic-promoting 10 (12) 7.3% (8.8%)
Existential 3 2.2%
Total 136 100%

28When several parameters are associated to the il y a-construction, one of them turns out to be significant in motivating the choice of the aligned Chinese form. Hence, for the sake of clarity – and at the cost of a certain simplification – Table 3 illustrates the data by classifying each sentence according to its most relevant property only (e.g., “locative + event-reporting” sentences are classified as “locative”). Note that, with the exception of the part-whole meaning, the concurrence of functions remains relatively marginal.

Table 3 – The functional classification of French il y a-constructions in both subcorpora (main categories)

Functions Count %
Enumerative 72 52.9%
Locative 35 25.7%
Event-reporting 16 11%
Topic-promoting 10 7.3%
Existential 3 2.2%
Total occurrences 136 100%

29Tables 4 and 5 below show the distribution of the functional properties identified in il y a-constructions in the spoken and written subcorpora, respectively. Table 6 offers a global comparison of the main categories identified in the two subcorpora.

Table 4 – The functional classification of French il y a-constructions in the OpenSub corpus

Functions Count (including overlaps) %
Enumerative Sentence-level list 13 (19) 19.1% (27.9%)
Inter-clause list 0 0%
     Sentence-level list + Locative 2 2.9%
     Part-whole + Sentence-level list 4 5.8%
Locative Locative 18 (23) 26.4% (33.8%)
Locative metaphoric 3 4.4%
     Locative + Event-reporting 2 2.9%
     Locative + Topic-promoting 2 2.9%
Event-reporting 14 (16) 20.5% (23.5%)
Topic-promoting 9 (11) 13.2% (16.1%)
Existential 1 1.4%
Total 68 100%

Table 5 – The functional classification of French il y a-constructions in the MultiUN corpus

Functions Count %
Enumerative Inter-clause list 27 (32) 39.7% (47%)
Part-whole 8 (19) 11.7% (27.9%)
Sentence-level list 3 (16) 4.4% (23.5%)
     Sentence-level list + Inter-clause list 3 4.4%
     Sentence-level list + Locative metaphoric 1 1.4%
     Part-whole + Sentence-level list 9 13.2%
Part-whole + Inter-clause list 2 2.9%
Locative Locative 2 2.9%
Locative metaphoric 8 (9) 11.7% (13.2%)
Event-reporting 2 2.9%
Topic-promoting 1 1.4%
Existential 2 2.9%
Total 68 100%

Table 6 – The functional classification of French il y a-constructions in each subcorpus (main categories)

Subcorpora OpenSub MultiUN
Count % Count %
Enumerative 19 27.9% 53 77.9%
Locative 25 36.7% 10 14.7%
Event-reporting 14 20.5% 2 2.9%
Topic-promoting 9 13.2% 1 1.4%
Existential 1 1.4% 2 2.9%
Subtotal 68 100% 68 100%

30In what follows, the criteria for identifying each function are detailed and examples are provided.

4.2.1. Enumerative

  • 13 “[T]he communicative function of [enumerative existential] sentences […] is to dr (...)

31The “enumerative” or “list-reading” use of the existential/presentational construction13 has been identified as a context neutralising the definiteness restriction on the pivot. As Lambrecht (2002: 199) puts it:

English and French behave alike with respect to the possible occurrence of definite NPs, including independent pronouns, in the so-called “listing” use of the existential construction […]. In both languages, the constraint on the cognitive status of the presented entity can be cancelled if the entity belongs to a SET whose existence is pragmatically presupposed in the discourse, but whose MEMBERS have not yet been determined at utterance time.
(Lambrecht, 2002: 199)

32Overall, 72 out of 136 occurrences (52.9%) of il y a-constructions in my data (Table 3) are characterised by the expression of an enumerative meaning. This can either occur within the same sentence (labelled “sentence-level list”, 31 occurrences) (e.g. [25a]), as a connection between sentences (labelled “inter-clause list”, 35 occurrences) (e.g. [25b]) and by establishing an explicit part-whole relation between the pivot and a larger referential group (labelled “part-whole”, 25 occurrences) (e.g. [25c]). As mentioned earlier, the three parameters can coexist, as in example [25d] and [25e] which instantiates a part-whole relation while expressing a sentence-level and inter-clause list meaning, respectively.

[25a] Enumerative il y a-construction (sentence-level list)
         Il y avait moi, Nicky, et un jeune, Carson.
  itEXPL there had me N. and a.m.sg young.person C.
         ‘It (lit. There) was me, Nicky and this kid Carson.’
  (OpenSub)
[25b] Enumerative il y a-construction (inter-clause list)
         Premièrement, il y a le lien entre ce
  firstly itEXPL there has the.m.sg link between pro
         que nous accomplissons ici et ce que les
  that 1pl accomplish.prs.1pl here and pro that the.pl
         parlementaires, dans des cadres similaires,
  parlamentarians in indf.art.pl settings similar
         sont appelés à accomplir chez eux.
  be.prs.3pl call.ptcp.pl to accomplish.inf at them
         Lit. ‘First, there is the link between what we do here and what parliamentarians in similar settings are called upon to do at home.’
  (MultiUN)
[25c] Enumerative il y a-construction (part-whole relation)
         Parmi les défis qu’ affronte l’ Union
  between the.pl challenges rel.o face.prs.3sg the Union
         du Maghreb arabe, il y a le problème
  of.the.m Maghreb arab itEXPL there has the.m.sg problem
         dit du Sahara occidental.
  called of.the.m Sahara western
         ‘Among the challenges faced by the Mahgreb, there is the so-called problem of the Western Sahara.’
  (MultiUN)
[25d] Enumerative il y a-construction (part-whole + sentence-level list)
         Parmi les nombreux obstacles au développement
  between the.pl numerous impediments to.the development
         socio-économique en Afrique, il y a la pauvreté,
  socio-economic in Africa itEXPL there has the.f.sg poverty
         les systèmes médiocres de prestation des soins de santé,
  the.pl systems poor of delivery of.the healthcare
         les guerres régionales et les conflits civils.
  the.pl wars regional and the.pl conflicts civil
         Lit. ‘Among the many impediments to social and economic development in Africa there are poverty, poor health delivery systems, intra-regional wars and civil conflicts.’
  (MultiUN)
[25e] Enumerative il y a-construction (part-whole + inter-clause list)
         Le terrorisme d’Al-Qaida se décline aujourd’hui en trois groupes distincts mais liés entre eux:
         premièrement, il y a les anciens dirigeants,
  firstly itEXPL there has the.pl ancient leaders
         dont les noms sont bien connus;
  of.which the.pl names be.prs.3pl well know.ptcp.pl
         deuxièmement, il y a les combattants qui
  secondly itEXPL there has the.pl fighters rel.s
         sont passés par les camps d’entraînement
  be.prs.3pl pass.ptcp.pl by the.pl camps of training
         afghans et en sont sortis terroristes confirmés;
  Afghan and of.it be.prs.3pl exit.ptcp.pl terrorists experienced
         et troisièmement , il y a   une nouvelle génération en pleine expansion de partisans qui peuvent très bien n’être jamais sortis de leur pays mais qui adhèrent aux fondements du message d’Al-Qaida.
         Lit. ‘Al-Qaida terrorism now comprises three distinct but interlinked groups: first, there is the old leadership whose names are well known; second, there are the fighters who attended the camps in Afghanistan and graduated as experienced terrorists; and third, there is a new and growing generation of supporters who may never have left their countries of residence but have embraced the core elements of the Al-Qaida message.’
  (MultiUN)

4.2.2. Locative

33The sentences classified as “locative” are those expressing an explicit relation between the pivot and a spatial reference frame, i.e. between a Figure (F) and a Ground (G) in Creissels’ (2019) terms (see Talmy, 2000, who introduced the Figure/Ground dichotomy in linguistics), as in [26a]. These include metaphorical locative relations (e.g. [26b]). Metaphorical locative sentences are mostly found in the MultiUn corpus (8/10 occurrences), while concrete locative sentences are mostly found in the OpenSub corpus (20/23 occurrences).

[26a] Locative il y a-construction
         15 km](G), il y a les Allemands(F)!
  at 15 km itEXPL there has the.pl Germans
         Lit. ‘15km from here, there are the Germans!’
  (OpenSub)
[26b] Metaphorical locative il y a-construction
         [Au cœur de chaque phobie](G), il y a
  at.the heart of each phobia itEXPL there has
         la peur de perdre le contrôle(F).
  the.f.sg fear of lose.inf the.m.sg control
         Lit. ‘At the heart of every phobia, there is the fear of losing control.’
  (MultiUN)

4.2.3. Event-reporting

34In event-reporting sentences (see Sasse, 1987, and Lambrecht, 1988), the (unanchored) pivot is expressed as participating in an event and is not promoted to topic status in the continuing discourse.

[27a] Event-reporting il y a-construction (written register)
         Il y a le terrorisme qui frappe
  itEXPL there has the.m.sg terrorism rel.s hit.prs.3sg
         de nombreuses sociétés
  of numerous societies
         alors même que la pauvreté, l’ignorance et la maladie se répandent dans maintes régions du monde.
         Lit. ‘There is the terrorism hitting several societies while poverty, ignorance and illness are spreading in many regions of the world.’
  (MultiUN)
[27b] Event-reporting il y a-construction (spoken register)
         Ensuite… Oh, il y a eu Don qui
  then int itEXPL there has have.ptcp D. rel.s
         rompait avec moi tous les vendredis pour que je
  break.pst.3sg with me all.pl the.pl Fridays for that 1sg
         sois pas dans ses pattes le weekend.
  be.sbjv.prs.1sg neg in poss.3sg.f.pl paws the weekend
         ‘And then… Oh, there was (lit. there has been) Don who broke up with me every Friday so that he could have his weekends free.’
  (OpenSub)

4.2.4. Topic-promoting

35In principle, all – or most – il y a-constructions are “presentational” in the sense that they include at least non-topical and typically discourse-new referents (see Carlier & Lahousse, forth.). The term “topic-promoting” is preferred here to characterise, in a narrow sense, the constructions including unanchored referents that are explicitly promoted to topic status. This is an operational choice as pivots standing in a part-whole relation with a given set, can of course be promoted to the topic status at least within the paragraph that concerns them. For the purposes of this study, this distinction suffices in that the enumerative function turns out to be crucial in identifying a subgroup of constructions in Chinese. By contrast, the topic-promoting function can coexist with the establishment of a locative relation between the Figure and an explicit Ground, as can be seen in the examples below.

[28a] Topic-promoting il y a-construction
         Il y avait ce gars, Wayne Dobbs,
  itEXPL there have.pst.3sg this.m guy W.D.
         il avait 24 ans. Il travaillait à
  3sg.m have.pst.3sg 24 years 3sg.m work.pst.3sg at
         temps partiel dans un magasin de copies.
  part-time in a copy shop
         Lit. ‘There was this guy, Wayne Dobbs, 24 years old. He worked part-time in a copy shop.’
  (OpenSub)
[28b] Locative + topic-promoting yǒu-construction
         这里有个人,叫Wayne Dobbs,24岁,在一个影印店里做兼职。
         [Zhèli](G) yǒu ge  rén(F), jiào Wayne Dobbs, 24 suì,
  here have cl person be.called W.D. 24 years
         zài yí-ge yǐngyìndiàn=li zuò jiānzhí.
  at one-cl copy.shop=in do part.time.work
         Lit. ‘There’s a person here, named Wayne Dobbs, 24, working part-time in a copy shop.’
  (OpenSub)

36Note that the pivot in the French sentence is represented by a noun modified by a demonstrative determiner. Here the demonstrative determiner is used not to refer anaphorically or deictically, but to encode a discourse-new referent by highlighting its salience in the continuing discourse.

4.2.5. Existential

37Finally, the few sentences classified as “existential” are those expressing the literal existence outside enumerative contexts. In the following example [29a], the pivot (le terrorisme “the terrorism”) is discourse-old and topical, and its inclusion in the il y a-construction is allowed by the full existential meaning of il y a. Note that the same proposition is expressed in Chinese by using the lexical verb cúnzài “exist” (see [29b]).

[29a] Il ne peut pas y avoir de démocratie
  itEXPL neg can.prs.3sg neg there have.inf of democracy
         tant qu’ il y a le terrorisme.
  as.long.as itEXPL there has the.m.sg terrorism
         ‘There can be no democracy as long as there is terrorism.’
  (MultiUN)
[29b] 只要存在恐怖主义,就不会有民主。
         Zhǐyào cúnzài kǒngbùzhǔyì, jiù huì yǒu mínzhǔ.
  provided exist terrorism then neg can have democracy
         Lit. ‘As long as terrorism exists, there can be no democracy.’
  (MultiUN)

38In what follows, I will analyse the Chinese examples aligned with the il y a-constructions of the French subcorpus, by considering first the syntactic structures before turning to the marking at the NP level, and the interaction between the two levels of analysis.

4.3. The distribution of Chinese structures

39Table 7 shows the Chinese syntactic structures aligned with French il y a-constructions (the spoken and written registers are both considered).

Table 7 – The overall distribution of the Chinese structures aligned with French il y a-constructions

Structure Count %
Yǒu “there be” 50 36.7%
Copular shì “be” 27 19.8%
SV 15 11.0%
Bāokuò “include” 12 8.8%
Locative shì “be” 11 8.0%
NP only 5 3.6%
Cúnzài “exist” 4 2.9%
Possessive yǒu 3 2.2%
VS 3 2.2%
Other VO 3 2.2%
Zài “at” 2 1.4%
Perception verbs 1 0.7%
Total 136 100%

40As expected, there is no one-to-one correspondence between French il y a-constructions and Chinese yǒu-constructions. However, somewhat surprisingly, the yǒu-construction is nonetheless the most frequent (36.7%). In section 4.5, I will analyse the definiteness of the pivots included in these constructions. In the copular shì-constructions (19.8%), the relevant NP (i.e., the “pivot” in the French sentence) is introduced as the argument of the copular verb shì “be”, while in subject-verb (SV) sentences, it appears as a canonical preverbal subject (11%). The use of lexical verb bāokuò “include” (8.8%) makes explicit the meronymic relation (i.e., the inclusion of the relevant NP to a larger group) often observed in the written register. NP-only constructions are also found in enumerative contexts. Locative shì-constructions (8%) differ from copular shì-constructions in that the precopular position is occupied by a locative expression ([NPGround + shì + NPFigure]). In 4 occurrences, il y a is aligned with the lexical verb cúnzài “exist” (as in [29b] above). The possessive use of verb yǒu is rather marginal (2.2%), as are other strategies identified in the corpus: verb-subject (VS) order, the other verb-object (VO) constructions – beside the ones classified separately, the use of the form [zài “at” + NP] and perception verbs.

41Table 8 below illustrates the distribution of the Chinese structures aligned with French il y a-constructions in each subcorpus.

Table 8 – The distribution of Chinese structures in each subcorpus

MultiUN OpenSub
Yǒu “there be” 12 (17.6%) 38 (55.8%)
Copular shì “be” 23 (33.8%) 4 (5.8%)
Locative shì “be” 2 (2.9%) 9 (13.2%)
Bāokuò “include” 11 (16.1%) 1 (1.4%)
SV 10 (14.7%) 5 (7.4%)
NP only 3 (4.4%) 2 (2.9%)
Cúnzài “exist” 4 (5.8%) 0 (0%)
Possessive yǒu 0 (0.0%) 3 (4.4%)
VS 1 (1.4%) 2 (2.9%)
Zài “at” 0 (0.0%) 2 (2.9%)
Perception verbs 0 (0.0%) 1 (1.4%)
Other VO 2 (2.9%) 1 (1.4%)
Subtotal 68 (100%) 68 (100%)

42Several findings are noteworthy. In the spoken corpus, the yǒu-construction is the most frequently used strategy (55.8%), while in the written register, most French il y a-sentences with a definite pivot correspond in Chinese to strategies other than the use of yǒu. In particular, recall that in the MultiUN corpus the il y a-construction is primarily used in enumerative contexts, and especially to ensure inter-clause list reading (47%). For this purpose, written Chinese tends to use the copular verb shì “be” associated to a connector such as a generic noun preceded by an ordinal number. The lexical verb bāokuò “include” makes explicit a relation between the “pivot” and a given referential set. By contrast, the latter strategy is almost absent in the OpenSub corpus (one occurrence). The SV construction is more frequent in the written corpus (14.7%) but is represented in the spoken corpus as well (7.4%).

43In what follows, the strategies observed in each subcorpus are analysed in detail.

4.3.1. The written corpus

44In the MultiUN corpus, within the inter-clause list the relevant NP is systematically introduced by the copular verb shì, with a lexical connector such as shǒuxiān “first” or a generic noun (such as diǎn “point”) preceded by an ordinal number (e.g. dìyī/dìèr/… diǎn “the first/second/etc. point”) in the preverbal position.

[30a] Enumerative il y a-construction (inter-clause list)
         Premièrement, il y a le lien entre ce
  firstly itEXPL there has the.m.sg link between pro
         que nous accomplissons ici et ce que les
  that 1pl accomplish.prs.1pl here and pro that the.pl
         parlementaires, dans des cadres similaires,
  parlamentarians in indf.art.pl settings similar.pl
         sont appelés à accomplir chez eux.
  be.prs.3pl call.ptcp.pl to accomplish.inf at them
         Lit. ‘First, there is the link between what we do here and what parliamentarians in similar settings are called upon to do at home.’
  (MultiUN)
[30b] 首先是我们在这里所做的工作和议员们在类似环境中被要求在国内所做的工作之间的联系。
         Shǒuxiān shì [women zài zhèli suǒ zuò de gōngzuò
  first be 1pl at here sub do sub work with
         yìyuánmen zài lèisì huánjìng zhōng bèi yāoqiú
  parlamentarian at similar context in pass request
         zài guó-nèi suǒ zuò de gōngzuò zhījiān de] liánxì.
  at State-inside sub do sub work between sub link
         ‘First is the link between what we do here and what parliamentarians, in similar settings, are called upon to do at home.’
  (MultiUN)

45This subgroup of copular shì-constructions, whose structure can be illustrated by [31], is systematically associated to the expression of inter-clause listing (all 15 occurrences) and is only found in the MultiUN corpus.

[31] [{Connector / ordinal No + N1} + shì “be” + N2]

46When the expression of inter-clause list goes along with the instantiation of an explicit meronymic relation, the N1 is no longer a generic noun (such as diǎn “point” or wèntí “question”), but rather it is an hyperonim pointing to the broader set to which the N2 belongs. In [32], the general referent (i.e., “the three groups of Al-Qaida terrorism”) is first introduced before detailing its members. In the Chinese version, each instance of the group is introduced as the argument of the copular verb shì “be” within the pattern “the first/second/… N1 is N2”. (Note that in the aligned English sentence [32c], only the connectors are used.)

[32a] Enumerative il y a-construction (part-whole + inter-clause list)
         Le terrorisme d’Al-Qaida se décline aujourd’hui en trois groupes distincts mais liés entre eux:
         premièrement, il y a les anciens dirigeants,
  firstly itEXPL there has the.pl ancient.pl leaders
         dont les noms sont bien connus;
  of.which the.pl names be.prs.3pl well know.ptcp.pl
         deuxièmement, il y a les combattants qui
  secondly itEXPL there has the.pl fighters rel.s
         sont passés par les camps d’entraînement
  be.prs.3pl pass.ptcp.pl by the.pl camps of training
         afghans et en sont sortis terroristes confirmés;
  Afghan and of.it be.prs.3pl exit.ptcp.pl terrorists experienced
         et troisièmement, il y a une nouvelle génération en pleine expansion de partisans qui peuvent très bien n’être jamais sortis de leur pays mais qui adhèrent aux fondements du message d’Al-Qaida.
  (= [25e])
[32b] 基地组织恐怖主义现在由三个不同、但是又相互联系的集团组成:第一组的是原来的领导层,他们的名字大家耳熟能详,第二组是在阿富汗营地受训毕业的战斗员,他们是经验丰富的恐怖义分子,第三组是新的一代人数不断增加的支持者,他们可能从来没有离开过居留国,但是拥护基地组织信息的核心内容。
         Jīdì zǔzhī kǒngbùzhǔyì xiànzài yóu sān-ge bùtóng, dànshì yòu xiānghù liánxì de jítuán zǔchéng:
         Dìyī de shì yuánlái de lǐngdǎo céng, tāmen
  first group sub be originally sub boss level 3pl
         de míngzì dàjiā ěrshúnéngxiáng, dìèr shì zài
  sub name everyone be.familiar.with second group be at
         Afùhàn yíngdì shòuxùn bìyè de zhàndòuyuán
  Afghanistan campsite be.trained graduate sub fighter
         tāmen shì jīngyàn fēngfù de kǒngbùyì fēnzǐ,
  3pl be experience rich sub terrorism element
         dì-sān zǔ shì xīn de yīdài rén shǔ bùduàn zēngjiā de zhīchízhě, tāmen kěnéng cónglái méiyǒu líkāi-guo jūliú guó, dànshì yǒnghù Jīdì zǔzhī xìnxī de héxīn nèiróng.
[32c] ‘Al-Qaida terrorism now comprises three distinct but interlinked groups: first, the old leadership whose names are well known; second, the fighters who attended the camps in Afghanistan and graduated as experienced terrorists; and third, a new and growing generation of supporters who may never have left their countries of residence but have embraced the core elements of the Al-Qaida message.’
  (MultiUN)

47In the remaining occurrences of the copular shì-construction, the relevant NP is also introduced as the argument of shì, but without this specialised use of a connector. Such sentences are found in sentence-level enumerative and locative contexts.

  • 14 Only 2 sentences of this kind are found in the corpus.

48As mentioned earlier, another strategy linked to the written register is the use of the lexical verb bāokuò “include”. All sentences with bāokuò in the data occur when a meronymic relation is instantiated. Note that sometimes such part-whole relation may be expressed only in the Chinese sentence and not in the aligned French il y a-construction (recall that only explicitly marked relations were considered in the classification)14.

[33a] Enumerative il y a-construction (inter-clause list)
         Deuxièmement, il y a les prisonniers qui
  secondly itEXPL there has the.pl prisoners rel.s
         ont achevé de purger leur peine
  have.prs.3pl finish.ptcp of serve.inf their sentence
         mais sont encore incarcérés et dont la détention est donc à la fois illégale et arbitraire.
         ‘Second, there are prisoners who have completed their sentences but are still being held, making their detention both illegal and arbitrary.’
  (MultiUN)
[33b] Enumerative yǒu-construction (part-whole + inter-clause list)
         第二类,包括服满刑期但仍然被拘留的囚犯,将他们拘留狱中是非法和任意的行为。
         Dìèr lèi, bāokuò [fúmǎn xíngqí dàn
  second type include finish.to.serve detention.time but
         réngrán bèi jūliú de] qiúfàn,
  yet pass detain sub criminal
         jiāng tāmen jūliú yù zhōng shì fēifǎ hé rènyì de xíngwéi.
         ‘The second category includes prisoners who have served their sentences but are still in detention, and whose detention in prison is an unlawful and arbitrary act.’

49The canonical SV order (14.7%) is not associated to any one particular function in the written corpus. One consistent parameter is that SV sentences are not used in contexts where a part-whole relation is instantiated. In [34b], the SV pattern is aligned with a locative il y a-construction in French [34a].

[34a] Locative il y a-construction
         C’ est [en Inde](G) qu’ il y aurait le plus
  it is in India that itEXPL there have.cond.3sg the.m most
         de séropositifs(F).
  of HIV.positive.persons
         Lit. ‘It is in India that there would be the most HIV-positive people.’
  (MultiUN)
[34b] 据估计,印度艾滋病患者超过世界上任何其他国家。
         gūjì, Yìndù Aizībìng huànzhě chāoguò
  according estimate India AIDS patient exceed
         shìjiè=shàng rènhé qítā guójiā.
  world=on any other country
         Lit. ‘It is estimated that India’s HIV-positive people exceed (those of) any other country in the world.’
‘India is now estimated to have more people living with HIV than any other country in the world.’
  (MultiUN)

50Note that in the French sentence, the locative (en Inde “in India”) is focalised by means of the c’est “it”-construction. In the Chinese sentence, the locative appears as a nominal complement, while the relevant noun (i.e., the “pivot”) is encoded as the nominal head (Aizībìng huànzhě “AIDS patients”). The pivot NP plays the role of the subject of the sentence.

51Besides the increased presence of bare-head NPs, the SV order cannot be seen as a strategy to prevent strong NPs from appearing in the pivotal position of a yǒu-construction, as the same kind of nominals can occur in both positions (see Section 4.4) with the exception of marked indefinite NPs which do not occur as preverbal subjects in the written subcorpus.

52The yǒu-construction (17.6%) is used in enumerative contexts in the MultiUn corpus, and especially to express inter-clause list-readings. Contrary to the copular shì-construction that can be used to the same purpose, here most pivots are indefinite (i.e., classified nouns) (see Section 4.4).

4.3.2. The spoken corpus

53As mentioned earlier, the yǒu-construction is the most frequent syntactic form in the spoken subcorpus, where it can convey the (i) event-reporting, (ii) topic-promoting, (iii) sentence-level list-reading and (iv) locative functions, to the same extent. It competes with the locative shì-construction ([NPGROUND + shì “be” + NPFIGURE]) in contexts where the relation between the Figure and a Ground is explicitly expressed (13.2%) (cf. [35b], [36b] with [37b]). This strategy is mostly observed in the OpenSub corpus.

[35a] Locative il y a-construction
         15 km](G), il y a les Allemands(F)!
  at 15 km itEXPL there has the.pl Germans
         Lit. ‘15km from here, there are the Germans!’
  (= [26a], OpenSub)
[35b] 那条路的十哩处,就是德国人。
         [Nà-tiao de shí chù](G), jiù shì Déguórén(F).
  that-cl road sub ten mile place then be German
         ‘Ten miles up that road are the Germans!’
  (OpenSub)
[36a] Locative + event-reporting il y a-construction
         Je me vois monter sur scène, et il y a
  1sg me see.prs.1sg go.up.inf on stage and itEXPL there has
         tous ces jeunes(F) [dans le public](G) qui scandent
  all.m.pl these young.pl in the audience rel.s chant.prs.3pl
         mon nom, comme si j’ étais une rock-star.
  poss.1sg.m.sg name like if 1sg be.pst.1sg a.f rockstar
         ‘It’s just this fantasy of me stepping out on stage, and there are all these kids out in the audience chanting my name, like I’m a rock star.’
  (OpenSub)
[36b] 观众席上都是我的同学尖叫着我的名字
         [Guānzhòngxí=shàng](G) dōu shì wǒde tóngxué(F)
  audience=on all be my classmate
         jiānjiào-zhe wǒde míngzì
  scream-dur my name
         Lit. ‘On the whole audience were my classmates screaming my name.’
  (OpenSub)
[37a] Locative il y a-construction
         [Au sous-sol](G), il y a le seul PDP-10
  at.the basement itEXPL there has the.m.sg only PDP-10
         encore relié au net(F).
  still connected at.the net
         ‘In the basement is (lit. there is) the only PDP-10 still active and on the Internet.’
  (OpenSub)
[37b] 那里有原始的资料处理器。
         [Nàli](G) yǒu yuánshǐ de zīliàochǔlǐqì(F).
  there have original sub processor
         Lit. ‘There is the original processor there.’
  (OpenSub)

54For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that in 2 occurrences classified as locative shì-constructions in the OpenSub corpus, the verb shì is preceded by the forms jiēxiàlái or jiēxiàqù “next, then”. Both occur in event-reporting contexts. Although a locative expression is not present, these forms also introduce the relevant NP in the postcopular position, with no (regular) subject in the precopular position.

[38a] 我大概该把那些该死的药片吞了但之后我大概就一睡不起了,接下去就是该死的噩梦啊
         Wǒ dàgài gāi bǎ nàxiē gāisǐ de yàopiàn tūn-le dàn zhīhòu wǒ dàgài jiù yì shuì bù qǐ le,
         [jiēxiàqù] jiù shì gāisǐ de èmèng a
  next then be damned sub nightmare sfp
         ‘I should probably just take those fucking pills, but then I just sleep all the time, and then there’s the fucking nightmares.’
  (OpenSub)
[38b] 接下来是…哦,是堂,他每周五要和我分手一次这样他就拥有自由的周末
         [Jiēxiàlái] shì ò, shì Táng, měi zhōuwǔ
  next be int be T. 3sg every Friday
         yào fēnshǒu yīcì zhèyàng jiù
  want with 1sg breake.up once this.way 3sg then
         yǒngyǒu zìyóu de zhōumò
  have free sub weekend
         ‘And then… Oh, there was Don who broke up with me every Friday so that he could have his weekends free.’
  (OpenSub) (cf. with [27b])

55SV sentences (7.4%) mostly occur in event-reporting contexts where the relevant NP is encoded as an indefinite quantified subject (as in [23b] above), either marginally it is a noun modified by a demonstrative used deictically (example [39b]) or as an indefinite noun modified by a possessive determiner (example [40b]), denoting an anchored indefinite referent (in a deictic locative sentence).

[39a] Event-reporting il y a-construction
         Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé là-bas?
         Il y avait ce crabe qui ne voulait
  itEXPL there have.pst.3sg this.m prawn rel.s neg want.prs.3sg
         pas m’ écouter, un crabe très indiscipliné
  neg to.me listen.inf a.m prawn very unruly
         ‘What happened out there? (Lit. There was) this prawn (lit. who) wouldn’t listen to me, one really unruly prawn.’
  (OpenSub)
[39b] 那边出什么事了?那些大虾们根本不肯听我的其中一个还特别不守规矩
         Nàbiān chū shénme shì le?
         Nà-xiē xiā-men gēnběn kěn tīng de,
  that-few big prawn-pl basically neg willing hear 1sg sub
         qízhōng yí-ge hái tèbié bù shǒu guījǔ
  between.them one-cl also especially unruly
         Lit. ‘What was going on over there? Those prawns wouldn’t listen to me, one of them was particularly unruly.’
  (OpenSub)
[40a] Event-reporting (deictic) il y a-construction
         Uh-oh, il y a ton copain.
  int itEXPL there has poss.2sg.m.sg mate
         ‘Un-oh, there’s your mate.’
  (OpenSub)
[40b] 你的另一伴在那
         de lìng bàn zài
  2sg sub other one mate be.at there
         Lit. ‘Your other mate is there.’
  (OpenSub)

56All these pivot types, including the strong ones, can occur in the pivotal position of a yǒu-construction (4.5).

4.4. NP types in the Chinese subcorpus

57Let us now consider the types of NPs aligned with the French pivots, by first considering all the structures identified in the Chinese corpus.

Table 9 – The distribution of NP types in the Chinese subcorpus (all sentence structures)

NP types Count %
Bare noun 28 20.5%
Classifier + N 24 17.6%
Bare-head NP + Pre-nominal RC 23 16.9%
Bare-head NP 21 15.4%
Clause 10 7.3%
Proper name 10 7.3%
Demonstrative + N 6 4.4%
Personal pronoun 4 2.9%
Possessive determiner + N 4 2.9%
Classified noun + Proper name 2 1.4%
Indefinite quantifier + N 2 1.4%
Ordinal number + N 1 0.7%
Possessive determiner + Proper name 1 0.7%
Total 136 100%

58As discussed in Section 2, bare nouns are unmarked with respect to indefiniteness. Previous studies pointed out that their interpretation is dependent on their sentence position, with the postverbal position (including the post-yǒu position) being associated to the indefinite reading. However, bare nouns which have an intrinsic unique reference make an exception. In [41a] the yǒu-construction includes the bare noun shàngdì in the pivotal position which refers to the uniquely identifiable “entity” of “God” (cf. with the French [41b] and English [41c] aligned sentences).

[41a] 原来一开始只有上帝和天使。
         Yuánlái kāishǐ zhǐ yǒu shàngdì tiānshǐ.
  originally as.soon.as start only have god and angel
         Lit. ‘Originally, when it all started there was only God and angels.’
  (OpenSub)
[41b] Au début, il y avait Lui et nous
  at.the beginning itEXPL there have.pst.3sg 3sg and 1pl
  Lit. ‘In the beginning, there was him and us.’
  (OpenSub)
[41c] See, in the beginning it was just us and him, angels and God.
  (OpenSub)
  • 15 A reviewer points out to me examples such as zhè zhong kǒngbùzhǔyì “this ki (...)
  • 16 I am thankful to Delia Bentley (personal communication) for her insighful remarks on th (...)
  • 17 Similar observations can be made of the bare noun mínzhǔ “democracy” appearing as the p (...)

59A particular case is that of bare nouns denoting abstract notions such as terrorism, poverty, truth (which in French, but not in English, are modified by a definite article). Although such concepts defy definiteness or specificity by virtue of their being abstract (and indeed the relevant nouns are uncountable15), they are familiar to the interlocutors and as such are comparable to nouns with a uniquely identifiable reference16. The following are examples of a bare noun of such kind in preverbal (example [42a]) and postverbal (example [42b]) position. In both cases, kǒngbùzhǔyì refers to the abstract concept of “terrorism”, and its referential value is not influenced by the position in the sentence17.

[42a] 恐怖主义正威胁着许多国家(…)。
         Kǒngbùzhǔyì zhèng wēixié-zhe xǔduō guójiā (…).
  terrorism prog threat-dur many countries
         ‘Terrorism is threatening many countries (…).’
  (MultiUN)
[42b] 只要存在恐怖主义,就不会有民主。
         Zhǐyào cúnzài kǒngbùzhǔyì, jiù huì yǒu mínzhǔ.
  provided exist terrorism then neg can have democracy
         Lit. ‘As long as terrorism exists, there can be no democracy.’
  (MultiUN) (= [29b])

60In the corpus, 16 out of 28 occurrences of bare nouns either have a unique reference or denote invariably familiar abstract concepts, and as such can be considered as strong pivots.

61Bare-head NPs are highly represented in the data collected (32.3% of the total occurrences, including bare-head NPs with a pre-nominal relative clause). Although formally unmarked, these referring expressions are no less “definite” than French nouns modified by a definite article including a nominal complement. They can be considered as invariably definite since the pre-nominal material contribute to single out the reference of the noun phrase. For this reason, Chen (1986: 16-17, cited in LaPolla, 1995) considered that all NPs marked with a genitive phrase or a relative clause to be “definite”.

62Formally marked indefinite NPs (i.e., classified nouns and indefinite quantifiers) strongly tend to occur as the pivots in yǒu-constructions (21/28 occurrences).

63Nouns marked by a demonstrative determiner are rather underrepresented in the Chinese data (4.4%), a fact that directly points to a low functional correlation between these referring expressions and the grammaticalised category of definite articles in French (see Section 2).

64Pivots marked as “clause” (7.3%) reflect the cases where French (nominal) pivots are aligned with verbal phrases in Chinese. In [43a], the nominal head la nécessité “the need” in the French pivot correspond to the auxiliary verb xūyào “to need” in Chinese (example [43b]), both followed by an infinitive (“make globalization more inclusive”).

[43a] Enumerative il y a-construction (part-whole instantiation)
         Parmi les messages essentiels qui figurent
  among the.pl messages essential.pl rel.s appear.prs.3pl
         dans ce rapport, il y a la nécessité de
  in this.m.sg report itEXPL there has the.f.sg necessity of
         rendre la mondialisation plus accessible à tous (…).
  make.inf the.f.sg globalization more accessible to all.pl
         Lit. ‘Among the essential messages that appear in this report, there is the need of making globalization more inclusive (…).’
  (MultiUN)
[43b] 报告中的关键信息中,包括需要使全球化更具包容性(…)。
         Bàogào zhōng de guānjiàn xìnxī zhōng, bāokuò
  report among sub key information among include
         xūyào shǐ quánqiúhuà gèng bāoróngxìng (…).
  need make globalization more possess inclusivity
         Lit. ‘Among the key messages in this report include needing to make globalization more inclusive (…).’
  (MultiUN)

65Note that yǒu is not used to introduce verbal phrases in the corpus (one occurrence, where it is followed by a comma); instead this is characteristic of bāokuò “include” and the copular shì-construction.

66The next section focuses on the pivots observed in yǒu-constructions.

4.5. NP types within the Chinese yǒu-construction

67Table 10 illustrates the types of NPs occurring as the pivots in yǒu-constructions aligned with the French il y a-constructions with a definite pivot.

Table 10 – Pivot types in Chinese yǒu-constructions aligned with the French il y a-constructions + definite pivot

Pivot types Count %
Classifier + N 18 36%
Bare noun 12 24%
Proper name 5 10%
Personal pronoun 3 6%
Classifier + Proper name 2 4%
Bare-head NP 2 4%
Bare-head NP + Pre-nominal relative clause 2 4%
Indefinite quantifier + N 1 2%
Demonstrative determiner + N 1 2%
Ordinal number + N 1 2%
Possessive determiner + N 1 2%
Possessive determiner + Proper name 1 2%
Clause 1 2%
Total 50 100%

68Most pivots included in yǒu-constructions are indefinite (e.g., classified nouns) or unmarked with respect to definiteness (e.g., bare nouns). Among the latter type of forms, 5 instances denote uniquely identifiable referents. Bare-head NPs and bare-head NPs including a pre-nominal RC are scarcely represented in yǒu-constructions (8%), especially with respect to their general distribution in the Chinese data (32.3%). As mentioned earlier, such forms can be considered to be invariably definite due to the identifying function of the pre-nominal material. The under-representation of bare-head NP with prenominal RC can also be seen as motivated by the tendency to avoid such complex NPs in the pivotal position. All pivot types considered (n = 50), the data include 30 instances of monoclausal yǒu-constructions (i.e., without RC), 15 instances of yǒu-construction with a post-nominal RC (i.e., biclausal constructions), and only 5 instances of yǒu-construction with a pre-nominal RC.

69Finally, yǒu-constructions can include proper names (10%) and personal pronouns (6%), with other types of strong modifiers (ordinal numbers, possessive and demonstrative determiners) being marginal but attested.

70Let us consider the distribution of pivot types in relation to the functions of the yǒu-constructions in the data (Table 11).

Table 11 – The functions expressed by the yǒu-constructions (both subcorpora)

Functions Count (including overlaps) %
Sentence-level list 9 (14) 18% (28%)
Event-reporting 10 (12) 20% (24%)
Topic-promoting 8 (9) 16% (18%)
Inter-clause list 7 (8) 14% (16%)
Locative 4 (8) 8% (16%)
Part-whole 3 (6) 6% (12%)
Part-whole + Sentence-level list 3 6%
Locative + Event-reporting 2 4%
Locative + Topic-promoting 1 2%
Locative + Sentence-level list 1 2%
Locative metaphoric 1 2%
Sentence-level list + Inter-clause list 1 2%
Total 50 (107) 100%

71The high frequency of indefinite pivots (Table 10) can seem surprising in a corpus aligned with il y a-constructions including definite pivots. Recall that event-reporting il y a-constructions in the data included discourse-new referents that are encoded by nouns modified by the demonstrative determiner (e.g. [45a]) or by the definite article (e.g. [44a]). Such pivots are typically expressed by indefinite NPs in Chinese, i.e. classified nouns (e.g. [44b]) or semantically-indefinite bare nouns (e.g. [45b]).

[44a] Event-reporting il y a-construction
         Et il y a la fille qui a escaladé la barrière.
  and itEXPL there has the.f girl rel.s has climbed the.f fence
         Lit. ‘And there is the girl who climbed over the fence.’
  (OpenSub)
[44b] Event-reporting yǒu-construction
         还有一女孩爬越前门的栏。
         Hái yǒu nǚhái páyuè qiánmén de lán.
  also have one girl climb front.door sub fence
         Lit. ‘There is also a girl who climbed the fence of the front door.’
  (OpenSub)
[45a] Event-reporting il y a-construction
         Il y avait ces moines et ils psalmodiaient.
  itEXPL there have.pst.3sg these monks and they chant.pst.3pl
         ‘There were these monks, and they were chanting.’
  (OpenSub)
[45b] Locative + event-reporting yǒu-construction
         那里有僧人在颂歌。
         [Nàli](G) yǒu sēngrén zài sònggē.
  there have monk prog chant
         Lit. ‘There were monks chanting there.’
  (OpenSub)

72Topic-promoting yǒu-constructions tend to include indefinite quantified NPs (not indefinite bare nouns). Among these, it is worth mentioning the form [yǒu cl jiào…] “there is one called…” (2 occurrences), as in [46b], which introduce a new and definite referent by means of an indefinite nominal expression (such forms were discussed by Zhang, 2006):

[46a] Et il y avait Walter.
  and itEXPL there have.pst.3sg W.
  ‘And there was Walter.’
  (OpenSub)
[46b] 还有个叫 Walter。
         Hái yǒu ge [jiào Walter].
  also have cl call W.
         Lit. ‘There was also one called Walter.’
  (OpenSub)

73Although marginal, other NP types are attested as the pivots in topic-promoting yǒu-constructions, such as proper names and nouns modified by a possessive determiner. Yǒu-constructions expressing an inter-clause list-reading (e.g. [47b]) also tend to include indefinite pivots (7/8 occurrences).

[47a] Enumerative il y a-construction (inter-clause list)
         D’autre part, il y a les États qui voient
  on other side itEXPL there has the.pl States rel.s see.prs.3pl
         leur sécurité menacée par l’ éventuelle agression
  their security menaced by the possible aggression
         contraire au droit international (…).
  contrary to.the law international
         ‘On the other hand, there are those (lit. the) States that see their security threatened by possible acts of aggression contrary to international law (…).’
  (MultiUN)
[47b] Enumerative yǒu-construction (inter-clause list)
         另一方面,有一些国家看到其安全受到有违国际法的可能侵略行为的威胁(…)。
         Lìng fāngmiàn, yǒu yìxiē guójiā kàndào
  other one aspect have a.few State see
         ānquán shòudào yǒu wéi guójìfǎ de
  obj.pro security receive have violate international.law sub
         kěnéng qīnlüè xíngwéi de wēixié (…).
  possible aggression action sub menace
         Lit. ‘On the other hand, there are some countries that see their security threatened by possible acts of aggression that are contrary to international law (…).’
  (MultiUN)

74On the other hand, strong pivots tend to appear in constructions instantiating a sentence-level list-reading (11/21), but also in topic-promoting, event-reporting, and locative constructions.

  • 18 A typical context for such use of the demonstrative found in the corpus is when speaker (...)

75Importantly, demonstrative determiners are almost absent as the pivots of a yǒu-construction (one occurrence). Most pivots in il y a-constructions modified by a demonstrative appear in event-reporting contexts (where they point to a referent available in the projected situational setting18) (9/16), with the cataphoric (the encoding of salient referents in topic-promoting constructions) (3/16), anaphoric (2/16) and situational deictic (2/16) uses being also attested. Chinese demonstratives aligned with French demonstratives express all kind of reference except the encoding of a topic-to-be (i.e., a discourse-new referent that will play a central role in the continuing discourse). The pivots in yǒu-constructions (all types considered) aligned with French demonstratives are mainly classified nouns and marginally indefinite bare nouns. The only occurrence of [dem + N] found as the pivot of a yǒu-construction is found in an event-reporting context.

76Overall, 21/50 occurrences of yǒu-constructions contain strong pivots – including proper names, personal pronouns, possessive determiners (and marginally demonstrative determiners and ordinal numbers) but also semantically-definite NPs which are formally unmarked. These are by no way marginal with respect to the total number of yǒu-constructions (42%), although decreasing with respect to their general distribution in the Chinese data (88/136; 64.7%). The small sample, however, does not allow for generalisations.

77A preliminary observation that can be made is that only 8/21 instances of strong pivots occur outside enumerative contexts, of which an additional 4 instances include a focalizing adverb before yǒu, a condition identified by previous studies for neutralizing the definiteness effect (see the introduction). This also shows that not all instances of the [hái yǒu NP] “there’s also NP” sequence are used in enumerative contexts. In [48b], the preceding sentence provides a strong presupposition allowing the use of yǒu with a definite pivot, where an enumerative meaning can still be implied. In [49b] the pivot does not belong to a discourse-old group, nor it is involved in any kind of list-reading; the adverb hái “also” is used to focalise on such NP. Conversely, not all (sentence-level) enumerative yǒu-constructions need to include the focalising adverb hái “also”, as is the case in [50b].

[48a] Je ne suis pas seul. Il y a Sal.
  1sg neg be.prs.1sg neg alone itEXPL there has S.
  ‘I’m not alone. There is Sal.’
  (OpenSub) (= [24a])
[48b] 我不是一个人。还有沙尔。
         shì yí-ge rén. Hái yǒu Shā‘ěr.
  1sg neg be one-cl person also have S.
         Lit. ‘I’m not alone. There’s also Sal.’
  (OpenSub) (= [24b])
[49a] Et il y a Megan, la cadette de
  and itEXPL there has M. the.f youngest.daughter of
         mes enfants.
  poss.1sg.pl children
         Lit. ‘And there is Megan, my youngest child.’
  (OpenSub)
[49b] 还有我的小宝贝女儿。
         Hái yǒu de xiǎo bǎobèi nǚ‘ér.
  also have 1sg sub little baby daughter
         Lit. ‘There’s also my baby girl.’
  (OpenSub)
[50a] Il y avait moi, Nicky, et un jeune, Carson.
  itEXPL there had me N. and a.m.sg young.person C.
  Lit. ‘There was me, Nicky and a kid, Carson.’
  (OpenSub) (= [25a])
[50b] 有我,尼可,和一个小鬼卡森
         Yǒu wǒ, Níkě, yí-ge xiǎoguǐ Kǎsēn
  have 1sg N. and one-cl little.devil K.
         Lit. ‘There was me, Nicky and a kid Carson.’
  (OpenSub)

78The sequence [hái yǒu NP] “there’s also NP” (19 occurrences in the data out of 50 instances of yǒu-constructions) mainly appears in sentence-level and inter-clause list, but also outside enumerative contexts (i.e., in event-reporting and topic-promoting constructions). In these sentences (e.g. [50b]), hái yǒu is used as a focalising device whose usage is broader than the expression of a list-reading.

79Finally, given that strong pivots mostly occur in monoclausal yǒu-constructions (18/21 occurrences), this casts doubts on the usefulness of assimilating mono- and biclausal constructions, in Chinese at least (cf. Carlier & Lahousse, forth., on French and Italian).

5. Conclusions

80Much research has been done on existential/presentational constructions in both Chinese and French (see Zhang, 1998; Ceng & Wang, 2004; Chao, 1968: 727-729; Li & Thompson, 1981: 509, for Chinese; and Lambrecht, 1988, 2000, 2002; Karssenberg, 2017, 2018, for French, among many others). A crucial point of divergence that emerges from previous studies is the treatment of the definiteness restriction on the pivot, with French il y a-constructions naturally including strong NPs in the pivotal position and Chinese yǒu-constructions showing a clear definiteness effect. Such a constraint in Chinese has been illustrated in the literature by the ungrammaticality of yǒu-constructions with proper names and nouns modified by a demonstrative determiner. At the same time, the inclusion of bare nouns is not considered a “violation” of the definiteness effect – at least not explicitly – because such nominals are formally unmarked with respect to definiteness.

81This study has demonstrated that the difference in the definiteness restrictions in the two languages is more nuanced than has so far been thought. First, the local marking of definiteness (at the NP level) is to be considered. As “purely surface phenomena” (Lenart, 2020: 184), definite articles are a discrete representation of one – or rather several – cognitive, non-discrete considerations (Lambrecht, 1994: 105), which concern not only the accessibility and identifiability of a referent but also its role in the continuing discourse. Their use may also respond to formal constraints, pertaining to the position of the noun modified by the article in relation to its complement. Significantly, Chinese unmarked nominals are not always indefinite in the postverbal position. Hence, pivotal bare nouns within yǒu-constructions can denote unique referents and are thus semantically definite. Bare-head NPs are also interpreted as definite because the subordinate material (be it a nominal complement or a clause) contribute to single out the referent of the pivot.

82In the spoken subcorpus, the yǒu-construction is the most frequently used strategy (55.8%), which however competes with the locative shì “be” construction when the pivot is spatially related to a Ground. Presentational and event-reporting il y a-constructions are mostly found in the spoken corpus and are systematically aligned with yǒu-constructions, which, however, tend to include indefinite pivots in these contexts.

83It should be noted that the corpus collected for this study is not informative with regards to the actual distribution of definite vs. indefinite pivots in the presentational constructions of the two languages. It is revealing that, although aligned with definite-pivot il y a-constructions, most pivots in the yǒu-constructions are nevertheless indefinite (56%). The fact that definite pivots in French can denote unidentifiable referents (e.g., in the projected-deictic use of demonstratives, and the topic-promoting use of demonstrative and definite articles, but also in semantically-indefinite sequences [def.art + N1 sub N2INDF]), cannot fully account for the frequency of indefinite NPs in the Chinese data.

84In fact, il y a-constructions such as il y a Jean qui a téléphoné, lit. “there is John who telephoned”, which include an identifiable but non-topical pivot are completely natural and common in French. By contrast, non-topical pivots strongly tend to map with unidentifiable pivots in Chinese yǒu-constructions, as also reflected by the data analysed in this work. However, there exist a certain number of exceptions to this tendency. Sentence-level list reading is a context allowing for definite pivots in Chinese, as is the use of focalizing adverbs before yǒu.

85Given that even the most definite pivots (such as personal pronouns or proper names) are not excluded from yǒu-constructions, on the one hand, and considered the tendency for French il y a-constructions to include indefinite pivots (see for instance Karssenberg, 2018 on biclausal il y a-constructions), as well as the lack of one-to-one correspondence between the definite meaning and the formal marking of definiteness, on the other, the different treatment of definiteness restrictions in the two languages is to be understood as a gradient phenomenon rather than a categorical opposition.

List of glosses

861: first person; 2: second person; 3: third person; acc: pretransitive marker; art: article; cl: classifier; cond: conditional; crs: current relevant state particle le 了; def: definite; dem: demonstrative; dur: durative aspect; expl: expletive; f: feminine; have: existential copula yǒu 有; indf: indefinite; inf: infinitive; int: interjection; m: masculine; neg: negation; o: object; pa: partitive article; paus: particle marking a pause; pfv: perfective; pl: plural; poss: possessive; pro: pronoun; prog: progressive; prs: present; psb: verbal complement expressing possibility; pst: past; ptcp: participle; rc: relative clause; rel: relative marker; s: subject; sbjv: subjonctive; sfp: sentence final particle; sg: singular; sub: subordinative particle; v: verb.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

Abbott, B. 1993. A Pragmatic Account of the Definiteness Effect in Existential Sentences. Journal of Pragmatics 19 (1): 39-55.

Ariel, M. 1990. Accessing Noun-Phrase Antecedents. London – New York: Routledge.

Ariel, M. 2002. The Possessive NP Construction: Discourse Function and Discourse Profile. In J. Larson & M. Paster (eds.), Proceedings of the 28th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society (February 15-18, 2002) – General Session and Parasession on Field Linguistics. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society, University of California: 15-26. Available online: https://journals.linguisticsociety.org/proceedings/index.php/BLS/article/download/3815/3517.

Beaver, D., Francez, I. & Levinson, D. 2006. Bad Subject: (Non-)Canonicality and NP Distribution in Existentials. In E. Georgala & J. Howell (eds.), SALT 15 – Proceedings of the 15th Semantics and Linguistic Theory Conference (March 25-27, 2005, University of California, Los Angeles). Ithaca: Cornell University: 19-43. Availalble online: https://journals.linguisticsociety.org/proceedings/index.php/SALT/article/download/2920/2660.

Bentley, D. 2013. Subject Canonicality and Definiteness Effects in Romance There-Sentences. Language 89 (4): 675-712.

Bentley, D., Ciconte, F.M. & Cruschina, S. 2013. Existential Constructions in Crosslinguistic Perspective. Italian Journal of Linguistics 25 (1): 1-13. Available online: https://www.italian-journal-linguistics.com/app/uploads/2021/05/intro_Bentley.pdf.

Bentley, D., Ciconte, F.M. & Cruschina, S. 2015. Existentials and Locatives in Romance Dialects of Italy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bolinger, D. 1977. Pronouns and Repeated Nouns. Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club (IULC).

Cai, W. 2000. Dai dingzhi jianyu de “you” ziju [You-Sentences with a Definite Pivot]. Journal of Zhenjiang Teachers College 2: 94-95.

Carlier, A. & Lahousse, K. forthcoming. Presentational Clefts, Existentials and Information Structure: A Comparative Perspective on French and Italian. In L. Sarda & L. Lena. (eds.), Existential Constructions across Languages: Forms, Meanings and Functions. Amsterdam – Philadelphia: J. Benjamins.

Ceng, C. & Wang, J. 2004. 20 Shiji 90 niandai yilai “you” ziju yanjiu shuping [Researches on You-Sentences since the ’90s]. Shaoyang xueyuan xuebao: Shehui kexue ban 3 (2): 77-80.

Chafe, W.L. 1994. Discourse, Consciousness, and Time: The Flow and Displacement of Conscious Experience in Speaking and Writing. Chicago – London: The University of Chicago Press.

Chao, Y. R. 1968. A Grammar of Spoken Chinese. Berkeley – Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Chappell, H. & Creissels, D. 2019. Topicality and the Typology of Predicative Possession. Linguistic Typology 23 (3): 467-532.

Chen, P. 1986. Referent Introducing and Referent Tracking in Chinese Narratives. PhD dissertation. University of California at Los Angeles.

Chen, P. 2003. Indefinite Determiner Introducing Definite Referent: A Special Use of “yi ‘One’+Classifier” in Chinese. Lingua 113 (12): 1169-1184.

Chen, P. 2004. Identifiability and Definiteness in Chinese. Linguistics 42 (6): 1129-1184.

Cheng, L.L.-S. & Sybesma, R. 1999. Bare and Not-So-Bare Nouns and the Structure of NP. Linguistic Inquiry 30 (4): 509-542.

Creissels, D. 2019. Inverse-Locational Predication in Typological Perspective. Italian Journal of Linguistics 31 (2): 37-106. Available online: https://www.italian-journal-linguistics.com/app/uploads/2021/05/2_Creissels.pdf.

Crosthwaite, P., Yeung, Y., Bai, X., Lu, L. & Bae, Y. 2018. Definite Discourse-New Reference in L1 and L2: The Case of L2 Mandarin. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 40 (3): 625-649.

Gundel, J.K., Hedberg, N. & Zacharski, R. 1993. Cognitive Status and the Form of Referring Expressions in Discourse. Language 69 (2): 274-307.

Hole, D. 2012. The Information Structure of Chinese. In M. Krifka & R. Musan (eds.), The Expression of Information Structure. Berlin – Boston: De Gruyter Mouton: 45-70.

Hu, J. & Pan, H. 2007. Focus and the Basic Function of Chinese Existential You-Sentences. In I. Comorovski & K. von Heusinger (eds.), Existence: Semantics and Syntax. Dordrecht: Springer: 133-145.

Huang, S. 2013. Chinese Grammar at Work. Amsterdam – Philadelphia: J. Benjamins.

Karssenberg, L. 2017. French il y a Clefts, Existential Sentences and the Focus-Marking Hypothesis. Journal of French Language Studies 27 (3): 405-430.

Karssenberg, L. 2018. Non-Prototypical Clefts in French: A Corpus Analysis of “il y a” Clefts. Berlin – Boston: De Gruyter.

Koch, P. 2012. Location, Existence, and Possession: A Constructional-Typological Exploration. Linguistics 50 (3): 533-603.

Lambrecht, K. 1988. Presentational Cleft Constructions in Spoken French. In J. Haiman & S.A. Thompson (eds.), Clause Combining in Grammar and Discourse. Amsterdam – Philadelphia: J. Benjamins: 135-179.

Lambrecht, K. 1994. Information Structure and Sentence Form: Topic, Focus, and the Mental Representations of Discourse Referents. Cambridge – New York – Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Lambrecht, K. 2000. When Subjects Behave like Objects: An Analysis of the Merging of S and O in Sentence-Focus Constructions across Languages. Studies in Language 24 (3): 611-682.

Lambrecht, K. 2001. A Framework for the Analysis of Cleft Constructions. Linguistics 39 (3): 463-516.

Lambrecht, K. 2002. Topic, Focus and Secondary Predication: The French Presentational Relative Construction. In C. Beyssade, R. Bok-Bennema, F. Drijkoningen & P. Monachesi (eds.), Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory 2000. Amsterdam – Philadelphia: J. Benjamins: 171-212.

LaPolla, R.J. 1995. Pragmatic Relations and Word Order in Chinese. In P.A. Downing & M. Noonan (eds.), Word Order in Discourse. Amsterdam – Philadelphia: J. Benjamins: 297-329.

Lena, L. 2020a. L’introduction des entités dans le récit en français et en chinois: des usages natifs aux variétés d’apprenants [Referent Introductions in French and in Chinese: From First Language Users to Second Language Learners]. PhD dissertation. INALCO – La Sapienza University. Paris – Rome. Available online: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-03262068.

Lena, L. 2020b. Referent Introducing Strategies in Advanced L2 Usage: A Bi-Directional Study on French Learners of Chinese and Chinese Learners of French. In J. Ryan & P.R. Crosthwaite (eds.), Referring in a Second Language: Studies on Reference to Person in a Multilingual World. London: Routledge: 164-183.

Lena, L. 2020c. Presentational Sentences: A Study on the Information Structure of Path Verbs in Spoken Discourse. In D. Chen & D. Bell (eds.), Explorations of Chinese Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing: 44-81.

Lena, L. forthcoming1. The (Non-)Acquisition of the Chinese Definiteness Effect: A Usage-Based Account. In H.H.-J. Chen, K. Mochizuki & H. Tao (eds.), Learner Corpora: Construction and Explorations in Chinese and Related Languages. Dordrecht: Springer.

Lena, L. forthcoming2. Partition and Existence: The Case of you ren “there’s someone, there are people” in Chinese. In L. Sarda & L. Lena (eds.), Existential Constructions across Languages: Forms, Meanings and Functions. Amsterdam – Philadelphia: J. Benjamins.

Lenart, E. 2020. Nominal Reference in L2 French: How Do Adult Learners Manage to Understand the Multifunctionality of Determiners and Their Discourse Counterparts? In J. Ryan & P.R. Crosthwaite (eds.), Referring in a Second Language: Studies on Reference to Person in a Multilingual World. London: Routledge: 184-203.

Leonetti, M. 2008. Definiteness Effect and the Role of the Coda in Existential Constructions. In H. H. Müller & A. Klinge (eds.), Essays on Nominal Determination: From Morphology to Discourse Management. Amsterdam – Philadelphia: J. Benjamins: 131–162.

Leonetti, M. 2016. Definiteness Effects: The Interplay of Information Structure and Pragmatics. In S. Fischer, T. Kupisch & E. Rinke (eds.), Definiteness Effects: Bilingual, Typological and Diachronic Variation. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing: 66-119.

Li, C.N. & Thompson, S.A. 1981. Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar. Berkeley – London: University of California Press.

Li, Y.A. 1996. Definite and Indefinite Existential Constructions. Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 26 (1-2): 175-191.

Liu, F.-H. 2012. The Count-Mass Distinction of Abstract Nouns in Mandarin Chinese. UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics, Theories of Everything 17: 215-221.

, S. 1985 [1942]. Zhongguo wenfa yaolüe [Essentials of Chinese Grammar]. Beijing: Commercial Press.

Lumsden, M. 1988. Existential Sentences: Their Structure and Meaning. London: Croom Helm.

McNally, L. 2011. Existential Sentences. In K. von Heusinger, C. Maienborn & P. Portner (eds.), Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. Berlin – Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. Vol. 2: 1829-1848.

Meulleman, M.C. 2012. Les localisateurs dans les constructions existentielles: approche comparée en espagnol, en français et en italien. Berlin – Boston: De Gruyter.

Milsark, G.L. 1974. Existential Sentences in English. PhD dissertation. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Cambridge.

Prince, E.F. 1981. Toward a Taxonomy of Given-New Information. In P. Cole (ed.), Radical Pragmatics. Cambridge – London: Academic Press: 223-256.

Rando, E. & Napoli, D.J. 1978. Definites in There-Sentences. Language 54 (2): 300-313.

Sarda, L. & Lena, L. forthcoming. Existential Constructions: In Search of a Definition. In L. Sarda & L. Lena (eds.), Existential Constructions across Languages: Forms, Meanings and Functions. Amsterdam – Philadelphia: J. Benjamins.

Sasse, H.-J. 1987. The Thetic/Categorical Distinction Revisited. Linguistics 25 (3): 511-580.

Schmid, H.-J. 2000. English Abstract Nouns as Conceptual Shells: From Corpus to Cognition. Berlin – New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Talmy, L. 2000. Toward a Cognitive Semantics. Cambridge – London: MIT Press. Vol. 1: Concept Structuring Systems.

Ward, G. & Birner, B. 1995. Definiteness and the English Existential. Language 71 (4): 722-742.

Xia, X. 2009. Dai youding jianyu de “you” ziju jufa, yuyi ji yuyong fenxi [Syntactic, Semantic and Pragmatic Analysis of yǒu Constructions with a Definite Pivot]. Haiwai Huawen jiaoyu 1: 24-29.

Xu, L. 1995. Definiteness Effects on Chinese Word Order. Cahiers de linguistique – Asie orientale 24 (1): 29-48.

, Y.C. 2015. “Yǒu+NP+VP” jiégòu kǎochá [On the Construction of “You+NP+VP”]. Yǔyán Jiàoxué yǔ Yánjiū 2: 45-53.

Zhang, B. 2006. Cunxianju li de zhuanyou mingxi binyu [Proper Names as Objects in Existential Sentences]. Yufa yanjiu he tansuo 13: 214-219.

Zhang, Y. 1998. “You” ziju yanjiu zongshu [You-Sentences: The State of Arts]. Hanyu xuexi 3: 28-32.

Haut de page

Notes

1 See for instance Karssenberg, 2018; Carlier & Lahousse, forth. The term “cleft” is generally not used to characterise Chinese biclausal yǒu-constructions (e.g. [2b]) as they are not seen as involving a relative clause. The functional correspondence between French and Chinese biclausal constructions was noted by Lambrecht (2000, 2001). See also Lena (2020a, forth.1 and 2).

2 The parallel corpus collected for this study, along with its subcorpora, is described in Section 3. Whenever possible or useful, the translation of the examples is taken from the aligned English sentence. Otherwise, the indication “lit.” is provided.

3 As pointed out by Chappell and Creissels (2019: 487), the possessive use of yǒu is to be distinguished from its use as an existential predicator. (See, e.g., Li & Thompson, 1981: 513 for a different position.) Throughout this work, the existential value of yǒu is glossed as “have” in small capitals to underline – at least – its possessive source construction. See the end of the article for a full list of the glosses used in the examples.

4 Milsark (1974) distinguishes two basic types of NPs: “weak” NPs which are allowed in existential sentences, and “strong” NPs which – in principle – are not. Weak NPs include for instance indefinite articles, cardinal numbers and mass nouns. Strong NPs include nouns modified by the definite article, demonstratives, pronouns, possessive determiners, universal quantifiers and generics.

5 Similar ungrammatical examples are discussed in Xú (2015).

6 On accessibility and identifiability, see for instance Prince, 1981; Ariel, 1990; Gundel et al., 1993; Chafe, 1994; Lambrecht, 1994.

7 See: https://www.sketchengine.eu/opus-parallel-corpora/.

8 See: http://www.opensubtitles.org/.

9 The French subcorpus contains 40/136 (29.4%) occurrences of il y a-construction including a relative clause. Note, however, that only qui-relative clauses were calculated. Building upon Karssenberg (2017) and Carlier and Lahousse (forth.) it is assumed that mono- and biclausal il y a-constructions can express the same range of meanings.

10 In an additional 4 examples (4% of il y a-constructions including a pivot modified by a definite article) the pivot is modified by a superlative (e.g. le plus de N “the most of N”), which has been identified as a context neutralizing the definiteness restrictions (Meulleman, 2012: 39).

11 Such general nouns are labelled “low-content nouns” in Bolinger (1977: 5-6), highlighting their semantic generality or unspecificity. See also Schmid’s (2000) analysis in terms of “shell nouns”, in which a general noun such as question or point allow speakers to encapsulate complex chunks of information in temporary nominal concepts.

12 See Lambrecht (1994: 83) on English. Such usage of the demonstrative determiner has been labelled “indefinite this” (Prince, 1981).

13 “[T]he communicative function of [enumerative existential] sentences […] is to draw the attention of the addressee towards some entity (or a set of entities) that is relevant for some purpose under discussion” (Lumsden, 1988: 151).

14 Only 2 sentences of this kind are found in the corpus.

15 A reviewer points out to me examples such as zhè zhong kǒngbùzhǔyì “this kind of terrorism” and liǎng zhǒng bùtóng de kǒngbùzhǔyì “two different kinds of terrorism”. Such forms include zhǒng which is a measure word and not an individual classifier. Mass nouns are compatible with the former but not the latter (Liu, 2012).

16 I am thankful to Delia Bentley (personal communication) for her insighful remarks on this point.

17 Similar observations can be made of the bare noun mínzhǔ “democracy” appearing as the pivot of a yǒu-construction in [42b].

18 A typical context for such use of the demonstrative found in the corpus is when speakers report on a dream that they made (e.g., Ensuite, il y avait tous ces gens autour de nous… des centaines, partout… tout le monde baisait… “Then there were all these other people around us… hundreds of them, everywhere. Everyone was fucking…”, OpenSub).

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Ludovica Lena, « An Unbridgeable Gap? The Treatment of Definiteness Restrictions in French and Chinese Presentational Constructions »Discours [En ligne], 31 | 2022, mis en ligne le 22 décembre 2022, consulté le 17 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/discours/12249 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/discours.12249

Haut de page

Auteur

Ludovica Lena

Xiamen University | CRLAO (Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l’Asie orientale) – Inalco (Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales) / EHESS (École des hautes études en sciences sociales) / CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique)

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

CC-BY-4.0

Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search