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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Mandarin Chinese has long been known to possess a category of words known as ‘coverbs’ in the literature, which sit in the gray area between verb and preposition. Li and Thompson (1974) describe the historical origins of Mandarin coverbs to be full transitive verbs, despite their modern state being decidedly less verbal. They also note that coverbs are a non-homogenous class. This thesis works to establish categories of coverbs in Mandarin Chinese and their distance from true verbhood in order to understand the diachronic shift that coverbs are currently undergoing before our very eyes. I will draw on the work of scholars of Atlantic-Congo languages, Oceanic languages, and other languages of mainland Southeast Asia, to create semantic, syntactic, and morphological testing for Mandarin coverbs. Using the results of this three-pronged testing approach, I will map the results on a six-pointed verb-preposition matrix in order to visualize the space between verb and preposition and how Mandarin coverbs inhabit it. I will then use these diagrams to create a numerical score for each category of coverb and place them on a linear progression between verbhood and prepositionhood. Lastly, this work will analyze the theta roles assigned by Mandarin coverbs in each category and propose stages of diachronic development for Mandarin coverbs.


First Advisor

Zhijun Wang

Second Advisor

Ellen Woolford