East Asian Pragmatics, Vol 2, No 1 (2017)

Extensions of the Chinese passive construction: A memetic account

Xinren Chen
Issued Date: 28 Apr 2017


The passive construction marked by bei + Vt in Chinese has undergone significant extensions in form, meaning, and function. Among a variety of existing accounts, the memetic discussions succeed in recognizing the new passive construction as a strong language meme and revealing some possible root causes for its transmission and replication, but leave much to be desired, such as how the form of the new construction contributes to its vigour, why the new construction is favoured by Chinese users over other means of expression with equivalent semantic meaning, and why new media can contribute to the transmission of the new construction. Thus, this study, while incorporating existing discussions, seeks to present a further treatment of the new phenomenon in the light of memetics. The author argues, on the basis of authentic data involving the use of the new passive construction, that (1) the new passive construction as a powerful memetic form of expression derives a major part of its replicating power from its parasitic nature, (2) the new passive construction as a memetic form of expression acquires its expressive power from its euphemistic effect appropriate to the Chinese sociocultural context, and (3) the new passive construction as a memetic form of expression owes its transmissive power to the easy and tolerant access and output enabled by new media. It is hoped that this study will reveal why and how the prototypical Chinese passive construction can undergo the aforementioned syntactic, semantic, and functional extensions characterisable as a process of memetic transmission in particular, and demonstrate how a memetic approach is applicable to the expatiation of syntactic evolution in general.

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DOI: 10.1558/eap.32412


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