SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics

Topics in the Structure of Chinese (Masters)

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Term 1

The course will investigate a number of selected grammatical constructions in Mandarin Chinese from the perspective of current linguistic theory. The course is designed to extend the linguistics student's ability by applying theoretical linguistic concepts to details of Chinese structure and to broaden the perspective of students of Chinese by introducing them to linguistic concepts.

An interest in learning about Chinese grammar is presupposed, but knowledge of Chinese language is not required, nor is previous exposure to linguistics courses.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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


10 weeks teaching (2hr lecture plus 1hr seminar).

Scope and syllabus

This course is intended to introduce students to the analysis and description of the main grammatical properties of the Chinese language from the linguistic perspective. We will focus on the characteristic features of nominal and verbal constructions (primarily in Mandarin Chinese) and associated phenomena such as classifiers, tense and aspect, modification and word order, information structure, lexical semantics and clausal structure. The relevance of this research to areas such as morphology, semantics, typology, language change and variation, language acquisition and processing, and language learning and teaching is also considered.

Method of assessment

One essay (5,000 words) on a pre-approved topic in Chinese linguistics. (100%)

The essay may consist of any (combination of) the following:

  • A critical survey/review of the literature on a specific topic
  • A comparative study of some construction in Chinese and another language or Chinese dialect
  • An analysis or reanalysis based on  existing materials and data
  • An investigation based on original data collected from corpora, surveys, questionnaires, work with informants

Outline/initial bibliography due on the last day of Teaching Week 9 in Term 2
Essay due on the first day of Term 3.  

Suggested reading

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

Available from the convenor at the beginning of the course.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules