The Bei-constructions in Cantonese : a focus on passives

Research output: Other contributionThesis/Dissertation


Previous syntactic analyses of the bei-passive in Chinese hold controversial stances on its true status — between a topic construction and a genuine passive (e.g. Cann & Wu, 2011; Her, 2009). This dissertation compares passivization across languages and explores the issues of Cantonese bei-constructions through corpora studies to examine the syntax and semantics of Cantonese bei-passive. The dissertation observes consistency in cross-linguistic morphosyntactic alternations under canonical passivization, including the realignment of semantic roles to grammatical functions, valence reduction, alongside passive verbal morphology. It also ferrets out commonalities between some passive-like constructions and the canonical passive. Based on corpora studies, the present research has found that the most frequent use of the Cantonese word bei2 is in the double object construction. Less common uses include having it as a marker of the indirect object, the permissive, and the passive, with its use as a marker of the instrument being the least frequent. The dissertation has found that the polysemous word bei2 can cause ambiguity and restrict the co-occurrence of these uses. The identity of the Cantonese bei-passive construction being a genuine passive structure is proven by the realignment of semantic roles to grammatical functions and valence reduction. The dissertation concludes that the unclear status of the bei-passive is engendered by the absence of passive verbal morphology and case markers in Cantonese. The corpora results evince that the Cantonese bei-passive is predominantly adversative. The grammaticalization path of the word bei2 as a passive marker is to be revisited in future research.
Original languageEnglish
TypePostgraduate thesis
PublisherThe University of Hong Kong
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


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