What's the difference between PRO and OP? For example, on p. 142, the book "The Syntax of Chinese" presents the following tree (which is an analysis of indirect passives in Chinese):

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In this structure, the verb dasi ‘kill’ takes the NP baba ‘father’ as its immediate object. The verb and this object form a complex predicate V' that takes another object, the “outerobject.” The outerobject controls the possessor Pro and is in turn NOP-moved to IP, where it is coindexed with Zhangsan under predication. (Both predication and control are subject to a Minimal Distance Principle of the sort first proposed by Rosenbaum (1970), as part of the Generalized Control Theory of Huang (1984a, 1992), inter alia.) We take the standard view that theta-role assignment is compositional. The inner object receives the Patient/Theme role from the verb dasi, and the outer object receives the Affectee role from the V' dasi-le Pro baba.

Why is OP used here instead of another Pro? Or why is Pro used instead of another OP?

1 Answer 1


I'll try to answer your question although I'm blind to Chinese clause structure. But notice that you wrote PRO in your question. PRO is quite different from pro. Let's consider this sentence:

(1) Zhangsan bei OP tufei t dasi-le Pro baba.

The first thing to note is that this sentence is causative. You've X caused Y to kill Z, where X is Zhangsan, Y is tufei and Z is baba (may he rest in peace :) ). Y (tufei) is the killer, it should act as follows:

(2) The bandits killed my father.
(3) The bandits seemed [t to kill my father]

In (3), the subject of to kill my father is not overtly realised by the bandits, this element has raised, but still it left a trace (t) that acts as a subject of the embedded infinitival clause. What is important to us here is that subjects are subjects of clauses whether they were moved or not, subjecthood must always be guaranteed in the sentence. This is why we have empty categories in general, to guarantee predication requirements.

In (1), compare it to the tree diagram you used, you have IP1, IP2, IP3. Each IP requires a subject. We don't care whether empty/null or realised. IP1's subject is realised by Zhangsan, IP2's subject is realised by OP, and IP3's subject is realised by bandits. So far so good. Now why not using pro as subject of IP2 and why using this pro and this OP at all?

Let me start with the most embedded null element pro. Pro is an empty subject used in pro-drop languages (languages which can drop the pronoun e.g., Spanish):

(4) bebí café (I drank coffee).

In (4), there is no subject pronoun realised, its identification is recovered by agreement morphology realised on the verb. Sometimes this pro acts as an object as in your example. Pro is pronominal, it must be bound by another element to co-refer with, but this binding should be distal. I don't know the details of V+complement predication of Chinese, but I assume that something can be dropped there, mostly objects. Pro+baba forms V' which introduce the OP in Spec,V'. This is the subject that moves to Spec,IP2. It's realised in Spec,V' for predication (theta marking). Why does it move to Spec,IP2? This can be answered by assuming that OP moves to Spec,IP2 to become closer (in a local domain) to be controlled by Spec,IP1 Zhangsan. Carefully note that they share all the same index (i). Binding between pro and OP (before movement) is established at DS. Pro must not be bound in its local domain because it acts as a pronoun [+pronominal]. This is guaranteed at SS after OP moves.

After movement of OP to Spec,IP2, this binding becomes distal. Pro cannot be in Spec,IP2 because it would be locally controlled by Zhangsan. Also this position is not for objects, it's a subject position, and this pro you have at foot of the tree is an object. However, OP (null operator) is free to be bound anywhere and it also establishes the bridge between predication of the most external subject and what is embedded in a tree.

  • There may be a misunderstanding here. The sentence in the question can be translated best as Zhangsan's father was killed by bandits. It is not a causative in the sense of Zhangsan had bandits kill his father. Zhangsan is negatively affected by the killing (since he lost his father); he certainly did not cause the bandits to kill his father. There are other problems, too. The answer is dense and there are many typos and grammatically dubious sentences. I can elaborate if you'd like. Jun 6, 2020 at 18:23
  • @TimOsborne, please do elaborate.
    – Tsutsu
    Jun 6, 2020 at 20:22
  • You write "You've X caused Y to kill Z, where X is Zhangsan, Y is tufei and Z is baba". This is incorrect. The sentence does not have the meaning you suggest here. I have verified that it is not a causative with a native speaker of Mandarin and with the source from which the sentence was taken (I have the book in my personal library). Thus, the basic claim in your answer is incorrect. Jun 7, 2020 at 1:24
  • Your answer is dense, in part because it uses many acronyms and abbreviations. There are typos, e.g. bein instead of bei, Zangsan instead of Zhangsan, genegal instead of general. The typos demonstrate a lack of proofing. The answer was fired off without due diligence. There are some grammatically dubious sentences, e.g. Now why not using pro as subject of IP2 and why using this pro and this OP at all? That sentence should read as _Now why not use pro as the subject of IP2 and why use this pro and this OP at all?. Jun 7, 2020 at 1:44
  • 1
    @TimOsborne thank you for pointing out these errors. You're right, there're many typoos. I do revise my answers before I post them, I just don't know what went wrong here. Sorry. I'll try to amend it as soon as possible. Thank you again.
    – Tsutsu
    Jun 7, 2020 at 22:50

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