"The rice ate four people" and such flip-flops

Lian-Hee Wee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


This paper attributes the set of puzzles surrounding the syntactic construction in Mandarin known as Flip-Flop (FF) to the equality in thematic prominence of the two argument NPs, allowing either NP to occupy the preverbal position. Such an approach is possible only if theta-roles are composite, being made up of typical features which interact to determine thematic prominence. While a given predicate may have a default thematic featural specification for its arguments, these features may be modified. With FF, the modification stems from the non-referentiality of the numerical NP commonly associated with agenthood. However, modification does not necessarily result in equality of thematic prominence between arguments, and as such predicts the variety of verbs that do or do not exhibit FF.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-57
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008

User-Defined Keywords

  • Inversion
  • Agenthood
  • Thematic Prominence
  • Syntax-Semantics Interface
  • Pragmatics


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