An abridged version can be found on my academic webpage

As a native speaker of Chinese dialects (Mandarin and Cantonese, as I grew up in a diglossic environment in Hong Kong), I have applied my knowledge and training in theoretical linguistics to a systematic analysis of Chinese, and I have worked particularly on the Chinese copula shi, adnominaliser de, the (in)famous Chinese cleft (shi-de) constructions, and Chinese ba. In my analysis, I have paid attention not only to the empirical properties of these morphemes and their respective constructions but have also given a formal (Minimalist) interpretation of the Chinese data, which feeds into my theoretical research on syntax. More detail can be found in my papersdissertation, conference presentations and invited talks

On this page, I outline my research in Chinese linguistics and the topics that I have worked on, namely Chinese copula shi, Chinese cleft (shi-de) constructions, and Chinese co-verbs, especially ba. I provide synopses and downloadable copies of my work on Chinese linguistics in thematic order:

Chinese shi, de and shi-de constructions: 

'Sinitic nominalisation: microvariation and dialect levelling’. Oral (virtual) presentation at the 24th International Conference on Yue Dialects (第二十四届國際粵方言研討會), University of Macau, Macau, China, 13th-14th November 2020.  

Sinitic strategies of nominalisation as derived by adnominalisers de (的) and ge (個​/嘅/个) show microvariation across and between Chinese dialects, since de has a wider range of use than ge as the former can be used in past-time cleft constructions (VdeO/*VgeO) as well as in Activity nominals whereas the latter is generally prohibited in Southern dialects. However, the dialectal distribution is uneven since in central intermediary dialects ge is marginally acceptable in past-time clefts (?VgeO) but largely unacceptable in Activity nominals, which indicates subtle mechanisms of dialect contact where indefinite uses of ge which historically underlie past-time clefts are more permeable in borrowability than definite uses of ge which mark Activity nominals.   


Abstract downloadable here:   

'Microvariation in Chinese nominal domain: mapping formal and dialectal cartography using historical corpora and social media (WeChat)’. Oral presentation at Morphosyntactic Variation and Change in the 21st century (MVC21), University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, 27th-29th May 2020 (TBA).   

Chinese adnominaisers (結構助詞) are broadly divided into uses shared by morphemes de (的) and ge (個​/嘅/个) which display microvariation where de as used in northern varieties (including standard Mandarin) seems to have a wider distribution than ge in central-southern dialects as shown in the uses of the former in past-time cleft constructions and Activity verb constructions which are prohibited for the latter (Tang (2011)). Furthermore, although ge is generally prohibited in the aforementioned constructions in extreme southern dialects such as Yue (Cantonese), Min and Hakka, it is marginally grammatical in past-time clefts but ungrammatical in Activity verb constructions in central dialects such as Wu and Xiang, which may be explained in terms of Feature Interpretability in language contact and dialect levelling (Tsimpli and Dimitrakopoulou (2007)), since it is widely established that de is a predicational linker formed in appositive uses of phrase-final nominaliser di (底/者) and ge derived from its uses as a general classifier, and while the latter has inherent deixis as a quantifier/determiner the former does not, which may have yielded the discrepancies between cleft and Activity constructions where ge seems to have been reanalysed in clefts but not in Activity nominal phrases. 


Abstract downloadable here:   

'Cantonese ge (嘅) vs Mandarin de (的): Microparametric Variation in the Nominal Domain’. Oral presentation at the Third International Symposium on Chinese Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (ISOCTAL-3), University College Cork, 13th December 2019. 

Cantonese ge (嘅) and Mandarin de (的) display subtle microvariations, since although both are classified as Sinitic adnominalisers, they have different distributions in relation to the event structure of the verb.  


Abstract downloadable here:  

'Cantonese GE (粵語結構助詞: )’. Oral presentation at the Second Forum on Cantonese Linguistics (FoCaL-2), in conjunction with the School of Cantonese Studies, Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1st June 2019. 

Cantonese adnominaliser (ge 嘅) presents subtle differences from Mandarin adnominaliser (de 的) in ways which suggest a more fine-grained cartographic structure in the Chinese nominal domain where ge and de co-vary microparametric differences which correlate with their different etymologies (嘅 < 個, 的 < 底 < 者). 


Abstract downloadable here:  

'Formation of Chinese clefts: microparametric 'lateral' grammaticalization’. Poster presentation at the Third Buckeye East Asian Linguistics Forum (BEAL-3), Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States, 22nd October 2018. 

A formal analysis of the typology of cleft structures in Chinese dialects reveals some common similarities, namely the use of the copula in assigning focus which accords with the cross-linguistic distribution of it-clefts/pseudo-clefts, as well as some microvariations which give rise to different forms of clefts in different areas of the Sinosphere.  

Abstract downloadable here:  

Poster downloadable here: 

Proceedings paper downloadable here: 

'Formation of Cantonese clefts (粵語焦點句形成語法化)’. Oral presentation at the First Forum on Cantonese Linguistics (FoCaL-1), Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 31st May 2018. 

While Cantonese broadly conforms to the Sinitic pattern of cleft formation in that it consists of a copula verb (hai 係) selecting a nominalised clause headed by the adnominaliser (ge 嘅), it displays microvariations and idiosyncracies in comparison to other Chinese dialects which reveal some new mechanisms in formal syntactic change.


Abstract downloadable here:  

‘Chinese copula shi’. Oral presentation at the inaugural International Symposium on Chinese Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (ISOCTAL-1), The Centre for Research in Linguistics and Language Sciences (CRiLLS), Newcastle University, 10th December 2015. 

The historical formation of the Chinese copula shi is reconsidered within a formal (Minimalist) framework and new proposals are made regarding the hypothesis of 'lateral' grammaticalization, as proposed by Simpson and Wu (2002).


Abstract downloadable here: 

Chinese ba, Co-Verbs and Light Verbs:

‘Formation of Chinese shi-de constructions (Mandarin and dialects)’. Oral presentation at the Second International Symposium of Chinese Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (ISOCTAL-2), University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy, December 2017.

Comparative evidence reveals a sharp divide between the Chinese cleft (shi-de) constructions in the north and south of China, which yields new and interesting insights into the formation of Chinese cleft constructions. 

Abstract downloadable here:  

'Chinese shi-de constructions’. Poster presentation at the Summer Institute of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), University of Kentucky, United States, 9th July 2017. 

New historical evidence indicates new origins for Chinese cleft (shi-de) constructions, a formal analysis of which entails interesting modifications to Simpson and Wu's (2002) 'lateral' grammaticalization hypothesis.


Abstract downloadable here: 

‘Formation of Chinese shi-de constructions’. Oral presentation at the Twenty-Fifth Annual Conference of the International Assocation of Chinese Linguistics (IACL-25), Research Institute for Linguistics (Hungarian Academy of Sciences) and Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungarian, 25th June 2017. 

A novel and integrated analysis of the historical origins of Chinese cleft (shi-de) constructions seeks to account for their empirical similarities and differences as well as a new formal definition of Simpson and Wu's (2002) 'lateral' grammaticalization.

Abstract downloadable here: 

‘What is ‘lateral’ grammaticalization? Chinese de and shi’'. Oral presentation at the Twentieth Annual Conference of the International Association of Chinese Linguistics (IACL-20), Polytechnic University of Hong Kong, Thursday 30th August 2012. 

A comparison between Simpson and Wu's (2002) 'lateral' grammaticalization (Chinese shi-de constructions) and standard Minimalist accounts of grammaticalization (Roberts and Roussou (2003), van Gelderen (2004, 2011)) reveals crucial and important properties of functional categories and syntactic change.

Abstract downloadable here: 

'Chinese Voice Alternations: Applicatives and Argument Alternations’. Oral presentation at the Third International Workshop on Syntactic Cartography (IWSC2019), Beijing Language and Culture University, 27th October 2019. 

Two special co-verbs in Chinese ba (把) and bei (被) display syntactic properties of argument selection and event structure which indicate unique derivational mechanisms of argument alternation. This paper proposes that Chinese ba and bei are unique forms of Voice heads which entail Voice alternations akin to activisation and passivisation respectively, and though it is traditionally noted that ba and bei share many similarities, their relative positions reveal differences in distributional and collocational range which can be argued to be due to their cartographic positions in the hierarchy of verbal and clausal functional heads. 


Abstract downloadable here:  

PhilSoc Report downloadable here: 

'Chinese ba and bei: Co-Verbs, Light Verbs, Voice and Argument Alternations'. Oral presentation at the Eighth International Conference on Formal Linguistics (ICFL-8), Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China, 24th November 2018. 

Chinese Co-Verbs denote subtle alternations of argument placement and differential argument marking which suggest a more elaborate cartographic structure in the lower half of the clausal spine, namely between T(ense)/Mod(al) and Asp(ect) where there are reasons to believe that there is a series of Applicative heads denoting Voice (Active/Passive) whose formal arrangement seems to operate on a semantically-driven Remerge rather than Case-driven Internal Merge. 

Abstract downloadable here:  

'Chinese Voice: ba and bei’. Poster presentation at the International Forum in Frontiers in Linguistics, Beijing Language and Culture University, Beijing, China, 30th October 2018. 

Chinese co-verbs ba (把) and bei (被) involve subtle empirical patterns which support a derivation of argument alternation in a cartographic hierarchy of Applicative heads, the structure of which seems to be based on a mechanism of Voice alternation which is more semantically-oriented rather than Case-driven as seen in Western Indo-European languages.   

Abstract downloadable here:  

'Chinese ba: new Voice head and Voice alternations’. Oral presentation at the 31st Paris Meeting on East Asian Linguistics (JLAO), Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO), Paris, France, 28th June 2018. 

Chinese ba is a seminal morpheme in Chinese whose formal and empirical properties have been analysed by Chinese scholars throughout the ages, albeit to no completely satisfactory analysis. This paper presents new perspectives in the structure of Chinese ba-constructions which not only purports to account for some subtle properties of ba hitherto documented but unaccounted for but also raises new perspectives on the formal structure of Case-assignment and Differential Object Marking.  

Abstract downloadable here:  

‘The formation of Differential Object Marking: creative parametric microparametric variation of semantic features’. Oral presentation at the International Workshop: Diachrony of Differential Object Marking, Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO), Paris, France, 17th November 2017.

A formal comparative analysis of two famous case-studies of Differential Object Marking (DOM) (Latin/Romance ad and Chinese ba/jiang) reveals striking similarities and differences in the formal alignment of semantic features in nominal arguments, which not only demonstrates the dynamic creativity and sensitivity to semantic features in formal Case-marking, but also allows us to form a formal typology of DOM, which is richly attested as a cross-linguistic universal. 

Abstract downloadable here: 

‘Chinese ba: grammaticalization, ‘lateral’ grammaticalization and Case theory’, in Proceedings of the Twenty Fifth North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics (NACCL-25)University of Michigan, published by Ohio State University (2014).

'Lateral' grammaticalization (Chinese de and shi) is similar to yet different from grammaticalization in Minimalism, since while both involve 'structural simplification', the latter displays 'phonological weakening', 'univerbation' and 'semantic bleaching' which the former does not (Tse (2013a, b)). There is another functional category which is not analysed in Roberts and Roussou's (2003) Minimalist account of grammaticalization, namely K(case), which is postulated to represented morphological case (van Kemenade and Vincent (1997:18-21)). An analysis of case-markers (K) in Chinese (ba) suggests that they are 'laterally' grammaticalized, which is significant for Chinese and modern Case theory since it entails that K(case) is not universal and cannot be equated with abstract Case.

Abstract downloadable here:  

Poster downloadable here: 

Paper in proceedings downloadable here: 

Keith Tse


Doing research on my native language has been a fascinating experience, since I have never had to actively think about it like the way I have been trained to analyse western languages. Nonetheless, as linguistic theory and general linguistics as supposed to be universal, I have endeavoured to apply my knowledge and expertise in theoretical linguistics to a systematic analysis of Chinese. Furthermore, in addition to my native command of Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), I have studied Classical Chinese philology and literature with Professor Feng Sheng-Li at Chinese University of Hong Kong, one of the leading experts in the field, and have had numerous 

communications with Professor Alain Peyraube in Paris, another leading expert in Chinese historical syntax. Both Sheng-Li and Alain have given me a lot of advice and help with regards to Chinese historical and comparative linguistics and for that I thank them. It is quite fun researching my mother tongue, since it is relatively underexplored as compared to mainstream western languages and people are discovering new and exciting things every day (I certainly am!). Nowadays Chinese and East Asian linguistics are very much the main focus of my research. I hope to do much more of it in the future! 

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© Keith Tse (2015-) 

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London, United Kingdom