Vol. 54 No. 1 (2016)

Chinese dummy and not so dummy objects in typological perspective

Federica Cominetti
Università di Pisa

Published 2016-05-30


  • transitivity,
  • Chinese,
  • indefinite object deletion,
  • word formation,
  • motion verbs


According to several descriptions, in Chinese a group of verbs require the expression of an object even when they appear in unergative constructions. This semantically empty object is dubbed as dummy object. Interestingly, the same phenomenon is also observed in a few intransitive verbs (and in particular zǒulù “walk” and pǎobù “run”).

In this paper I analyze dummy objects framing them in the broader issue of transitivity, with the purpose of identifying the characteristics of the verbs requiring them and the reasons why Chinese needs them. In doing so, I treat separately transitive and intransitive verbs, since they constitute rather different phenomena. In particular, the supposed dummy objects observed in motion verbs should not be considered dummy, and maybe neither should they be considered objects.

A typological perspective allows recognizing that dummy objects are not a proper sub-class of verbs in an intra-linguistic perspective, but constitute another strategy performing the same function of deletion of an indefinite object.