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realmayo

Chinese really has no adjectives?

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realmayo

I'm aware that certain words in Chinese which I might think of as adjectives (such as 高 or 大) can instead be classified as "stative verbs". So 高 does not mean "tall", but "to be tall" or "is tall". Wenlin says:

(STATIVE VERB xíngróngcí 形容词). These entries are frequently translated into English as adjectives, even though they actually behave in Chinese as verbs. That is, the sense of 'to be' is already incorporated into these verbs, e.g. Zhèige hěn hǎo 'This is quite good.'

Is it widely accepted, then, that Chinese has no adjectives but instead has stative verbs?

And does thinking about these things in this way lead to any different approach to words in this category (ie by not thinking of them as adjectives)? For example, Wenlin makes two points:

In fact, it is simply ungrammatical to place the verb shì, 'to be', directly in front of a stative verb. Because stative verbs are actually verbs, they are directly negated by bù, e.g. bù hǎo 'not good', and can be further modified by adverbs of degree such as hěn 'quite', fēicháng 'extremely' and shífēn 'very; utterly'.
One common function of stative verbs is that they may serve as adverbs to other actions, e.g. mànmàn in mànmàn chī 'Take your time (eating)' and piányi in hěn piányi de mǎi 'buy sth. cheaply'

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Doggiedoggiedog

I would turn this question around. Why is the verb "to be" in English so ambiguous? The verb "to be" has the following functions in the English language:

  1. Identity, of the form "noun copula noun" [Cat is an animal]
  2. Predication, of the form "noun copula adjective" [He is tall]
  3. Auxiliary, of the form "noun copula verb" [The cat is sleeping]; [The cat is bitten by the dog]
  4. Existence, of the form "copula noun" [There are cats]
  5. Location, of the form "noun copula place" [He is at home]

All these functions of the verb "to be" needs to be translated differently into Chinese:

  1. Translate "to be" to 是 [猫是动物]
  2. Omit the verb "to be" and use the 很 in front of the adjective or 不 in case of the negative form [他很高/他不高]
  3. Several translations possible
  4. Translate "to be" to 有 [这里有猫]
  5. Translate "to be" to 在 [他在家]

Hope this helps!

In my opinion a prerequisite to learning a foreign language is to understand your own native language first.

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realmayo

Thanks for the detailed answer but I don't think the english verb "to be" is ambiguous.

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atitarev

This feature of adjective being also static verbs is not unique to Chinese, the Japanese "true" adjectives (i-adjectives, not na-adjective) have the same function, the copula is still often used in the polite speech. It doesn't matter what you call them, adjectives or static verbs, sometimes you can translate adjectives as "to be" + adjective: 我怕 - I am afraid to be fat.

The missing verb "to be" as a copula in other cases in this and other cases happens in many Slavic languages (Russian), Arabic, Hebrew, etc. however it's doesn't make adjectives static verbs.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copula_(linguistics)

Edited by atitarev

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Lugubert
Thanks for the detailed answer but I don't think the english verb "to be" is ambiguous.

Not literally, but unfortunately, there seems to be no word polyguous, so I'll settle for ambiguous.

The missing verb "to be" as a copula in other cases in this and other cases happens in many Slavic languages (Russian), Arabic, Hebrew, etc. however it's doesn't make adjectives static verbs.

My Bible Hebrew textbook does distinguish between active verbs and stative verbs. BH participles have noun as well as verbal uses, and many (most?) are used as "adjectives".

Translating English, I often run into sentences where the major difficulty is deciding which words act as verbs, which are to be regarded as nouns and then which are more like adjectives. In long sentences, this is no trivial problem when a scientist or techie writes on what (s)he knows and finds perfectly obvious.

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anonymoose

I think arguments such as this are rather fruitless, because whether Chinese has 'adjectives' or not depends ultimately on how one defines 'adjective'. And if 'adjective' is defined strictly in terms of its behaviour in English, then of course, most other languages will not have words which parallel 'adjectives' one hundred percent.

From the common sense point of view, if an adjective is a word that qualifies a noun, then Chinese of course has adjectives, regardless of what other grammatical function they may play in different environments.

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realmayo
adjective being also static verbs is not unique

well here's the thing, is 高 both an adjective and a stative verb ... or a stative verb and NOT an adjective?

I'm not suggesting it's particularly important -- if it functions EXACTLY the same as an adjective, it's not important at all.

if an adjective is a word that qualifies a noun, then Chinese of course has adjectives

Look, I'm just wondering whether viewing a chinese "adjective"/"stative verb" as if it's saying "is tall" rather than "tall" can help tease out any nuances or explain any stumbling blocks in the grammar.

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c_redman

There are adjectives, in addition to stative verbs. For example, the word 国际 can't be used at all to mean something "is international." It's put before a noun to modify it, the way an English adjective would be. Wenlin calls these "attributives".

5. ATTR. (ATTRIBUTIVE dìngyǔ 定语). An attributive is any word, phrase or sentence that is found directly in front of a noun or noun phrase and functions to modify that noun. Just about any word, phrase or sentence in Chinese can easily function as an attributive. Because of this, the label ATTR. is limited in this dictionary only to those entries that have no possible function other than that of attributive. Examples include gōnggòng in gōnggòng qìchē `(public) bus', qián in qiánbàn `first half', Zhōng-Měi in Zhōng-Měi guānxi `Sino-American relations', etc.

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atitarev

To me, languages with pronoun/noun + adjective is more natural, since I am Russian.

he is tall:

In Russian, Chinese and Arabic, literally, it's "he tall", no copula

он высокий - on vysókij

他(很)高 - tā (hěn) gāo

هو طويل - húwa ṭawīl

In Russian and Arabic, the past tense will require a copula and the form of the word will change:

он был высоким - - on byl vysókim

هو كان طويلاً - - húwa kāna ṭawīlan

In Japanese the final copula です is optional in informal Japanese, it adds politeness in the formal language.

彼は高い(です) - kare-wa takai (desu)

The adjectives in Japanese have past tense forms, they actually behave like verbs:

彼は高かった(です) - - kare-wa takakatta (desu) (also possible in the polite language: 彼は高いでした - matching the English structure but different word order: "he tall was")

The identity sentences in Russian, dash is used:

кошка - животное - koshka - zhivotnoye (cat - animal)

The identity sentences are peculiar in Arabic:

القط هو حيوان - al-qiṭṭ huwa ḥayawān (the cat he animal)

In Japanese, normally the copula is required:

猫は動物だ - neko-wa dōbutsu da (informal)

猫は動物です - neko-wa dōbutsu dese (formal)

but can be omitted in female informal speech!

Chinese (for completeness):

猫是动物 - māo shì dòngwù

The past tense will require a copula in all these languages, which is identical to present in Chinese.

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HashiriKata
In Japanese the final copula です is optional in informal Japanese' date=' it adds politeness in the formal language.

彼は高い(です) - kare-wa takai (desu)

The adjectives in Japanese have past tense forms, they actually behave like verbs:

彼は高かった(です) - - kare-wa takakatta (desu) (also possible in the polite language: 彼は高いでした - matching the English structure but different word order: "he tall was")[/quote']

I don't enter the debate but only want to give you some practical help with the quoted part:

1. 彼は高い(です): The です in this sentence is not a copula. Its sole function in this kind of structure is to signal politeness, so you may call it a "polite ending". Consequently, you don't have "彼は高いでした" in Japanese but only 彼は高かった(です), with the です turning the sentence into a polite sentence.

2. If you just consider Japanese alone (= without reference to other languages such as English, etc), 高い is formally a verb (= considering from the point of view of its formal behaviour).

(By the way, 彼は高い(です) doesn't mean "He's tall". It means "He's expensive", as in the context where you'd want to hire him for a night :mrgreen:)

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atitarev

I used 彼は高い(です) and not 彼は背が高い(です) for simplicity and 彼は背が高いでした is a possibility, although 彼は背が高かった(です) is more natural and common. Otherwise, I agree with what you said that the Japanese adjectives work like verbs, although they are still classified as 形容詞 (keiyōshi), not 動詞 (dōshi)

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Altair
well here's the thing, is 高 both an adjective and a stative verb ... or a stative verb and NOT an adjective?

I'm not suggesting it's particularly important -- if it functions EXACTLY the same as an adjective, it's not important at all.

This is a matter of semantics. Different languages often have different parts of speech. For example, English adverbs are not the same as what are called adverbs in French or Spanish, although there is much overlap.

The most accurate thing would be to say that Chinese does not have adjectives, which would explain why words like 红 (red) and 大 (big) are handled quite differently in Chinese (e.g., 它是红的 (it's red) and 它很大 (it's big); whereas 大 (big) and 喜欢 (to like) have many parallels (e.g., 他很大, 他很喜欢)

Here is what Wikepedia says about English "adjectives" and Chinese 形容词 (descriptive words/adjectives):

Not all languages have adjectives, but most, including English, do. (English adjectives include big, old, and tired, among many others.) Those that do not, typically use words of another part of speech, often verbs, to serve the same semantic function; for example, such a language might have a verb that means "to be big", and would use a construction analogous to "big-being house" to express what English expresses as "big house". Even in languages that do have adjectives, one language's adjective might not be another's; for example, while English uses "to be hungry" (hungry being an adjective), French uses "avoir faim" (literally "to have hunger"), and where Hebrew uses the adjective "זקוק" (zaqūq, roughly "in need of"), English uses the verb "to need".
形容词,是一类用以修饰名词的词类,用以彰显被修饰的名词的特征,但是有些语言就不太有形容词的分别,像中文有时就被认为是一种没有形容词系统的语言,而形容词本身可以被副词所修饰,像“大”以副词修饰变成“非常大”,其中“非常”即为副词。

另一方面,有些人认为名词所有格也是一种形容词,而有时候名词也会如同形容词般地用来修饰别的名词

在许多的语言里形容词具有比较级和最高级,但并不是每一种语言都有这种系统。

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realmayo

Altair:

This is a matter of semantics.
haha!

c_redman -- thanks for the Wenlin quote.

I guess, then, what I'm interested in is whether anyone thinks that the distinction that Wenlin draws between attributives and stative verbs should hold any particular interest for a foreign learner of Chinese.

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gato
c_redman -- thanks for the Wenlin quote.

I guess, then, what I'm interested in is whether anyone thinks that the distinction that Wenlin draws between attributives and stative verbs should hold any particular interest for a foreign learner of Chinese.

"Wenlin's definition" are probably John DeFrancis's from the ABC Dictionary.... I think it's just a semantic difference, too. It's like that word "Liberal" means different things in the UK and the US. People are sometimes confused by the different usage but go on using these words anyway instead of inventing new ones.

Others, mostly academics, who enjoy or are in the business of coining new words, like to make up new words instead of giving an existing word a slightly different meaning.

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realmayo
In linguistics, semantics is the subfield that is devoted to the study of meaning, as inherent at the levels of words, phrases, sentences, and larger units (wikipedia)

Anyway:

fair enough, if the distinction brings no relevance then forget it. I wonder why John DeFrancis bothered make the distinction. So we should think of the chinese "adjectives " 高 and 公共 as identical in terms of the roles they play in the Chinese language (I've no axe to grind here, I'm just curious).

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gato

I take back the "make up new words", as it seems that DeFrancis didn't invent the concept of "stative verbs". Rather, it seems to be a pre-existing technical linguistic term.

See here for the definition. It's not something that an ordinary student of English would learn, and so I'm not sure of the benefit for teaching this concept to students of Chinese. It might only confuse people. Most people who learn Chinese aren't linguists. It may be easier to call 形容词 adjectives and then describe the rules for using then, which are somewhat different from the rules for adjectives in English. The rules should be simple enough. The Chinese themselves don't consider 形容词 to be verbs; otherwise, they would be known as 形容动词.

[url]http://www.perfect-english-grammar.com/stative-verbs.html[/url]
How to use stative and dynamic verbs

Stative Verbs

Some English verbs, which we call state, non-continuous or stative verbs, 
aren’t used in continuous tenses (like the present continuous, or the future
continuous). These verbs often describe states that last for some time. 
Here is a list of some common ones:

Stative Verbs
like 	know 	belong
love 	realise 	fit
hate 	suppose 	contain
want 	mean 	consist
need 	understand 	seem
prefer 	believe 	depend
agree 	remember 	matter
mind 	recognise 	see
own 	appear 	look (=seem)
sound 	taste 	smell
hear 	astonish 	deny
disagree 	please 	impress
satisfy 	promise 	surprise
doubt 	think (=have an opinion) 	feel (=have an opinion)
wish 	imagine 	concern
dislike 	be 	have
deserve 	involve 	include
lack 	measure (=have length etc) 	possess
owe 	weigh (=have weight) 	

A verb which isn’t stative is called a dynamic verb, and is usually an action.

Edited by gato

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realmayo
I'm not sure of the benefit for teaching this concept to students of Chinese

Just revisited this thread after practising making sure I was putting adverbs in the right place in sentences. As I understand it, in Chinese the adverb must go before the verb.

So, here:

收入不高,负债却很高 (income not high, but debt very high)

there is 却. Assuming this is being used as an adverb, how can we explain it coming before 高? I guess the answer has to be to say that in chinese an adverb can modify adjectives as well as verbs -- despite being called an ad-verb.

Or -- more elegantly! -- you can treat 高 etc as a verb, ie a stative verb.

This is just to suggest that the added hassle of considering two new grammatical categories (ie saying "adjectives" in Chinese are either stative verbs or attributives) doesn't have at least some advantage.

Oh, and 不 is an adverb too, right? 我不高,你不忙.

Can you use 不 before what Wenlin calls "attributives" (which others call adjectives)?

ie can something be 不国际?不公共?不中美?

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HashiriKata
the answer has to be to say that in chinese an adverb can modify adjectives as well as verbs
What do you mean? Don't you find the same thing in English? Eg. very nice (adverb+adjective), sing beautifully (verb+adverb), etc.
the added hassle of considering two new grammatical categories (ie saying "adjectives" in Chinese are either stative verbs or attributives) doesn't have at least some advantage.
Not true. When people divide a category of words into two, they often offer some justifications for it. Before you say that they do it needlessly, you should first understand and tell us of these justifications.

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leeyah
Can you use 不 before what Wenlin calls "attributives" (which others call adjectives)?

ie can something be 不国际?不公共?不中美?

Yes.

More formal variant would be using 非: 非国际, 非公共,。。。

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HashiriKata
Can you use 不 before what Wenlin calls "attributives" (which others call adjectives)?
To answer you question with confidence, I'll need to know what Wenlin means by "attributives" (because the meaning of this term is not fixed: see my previous post). However, as a guess, I think Wenlin use "attributives" for a category of words which can only occur before a noun (in this sense, they are not just "adjectives" but a special category of "adjectives."). So the answer to your question is "No", 不 doesn't occur before "attributives", because "attributives" don't stand alone as in your examples but they are part of bigger phrases (which some may call "nominatives".)

Edit: I've seen Leeyah's reply (posted at the same time as mine :mrgreen:) but I think Leeyah seems to have misunderstood your question (and your question has also disappeared meanwhile! :mrgreen: )

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