The loss of object focus and wh-movement in Early Middle Chinese


  • Edith Aldridge Academia Sinica, Taiwan



Focus fronting, wh-movement, Labeling, gradual change


This paper investigates the loss of object focus movement and wh-fronting in Early Middle Chinese (EMC) in approximately the 1st century BCE. These two types of object fronting were both productive in Late Archaic Chinese (LAC; 5th–3rd centuries BCE), the movement targeting the edge of the vP phase, resulting in a surface position between the subject and VP. Although wh-movement did not accompany any additional marking for focus, fronted referential objects were obligatorily followed by the genitive particle zhi?, which I propose spelled out the focus feature in the landing site. Regarding the loss of object focus fronting in EMC, I propose that the trigger for this change was the loss of the genitive particle. This had the result of removing the overt morphological evidence for focus movement, and referential object focus fronting was lost as a consequence. In contrast to this, the loss of wh-movement progressed through an intermediate stage in which preverbal interrogative pronouns were reanalyzed as being adjoined to the lexical verb. I propose that the intermediate stage was also indirectly triggered by the loss of the genitive particle, since this eliminated the evidence for focus fronting to the edge of vP. Consequently, acquirers adopted a more local type of movement in order to accommodate the residual cases of preverbal interrogative pronouns they encountered in the acquisition process.