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[I originally asked this question on SE Chinese, but my question has a strong linguistic orientation, so I re-posted it here, with more technical terms and a more technical question]

According to Paul (2015: 95), 裡 'in', 後 hòu 'behind', etc. are postpositions.

But in that case, how come do we have the subordinator 的 de just after a postposition, in sentences like 爐子裡的煤球很多 - lúzǐ lǐ de méiqiú hěn duō - stove in SUB briquette very numerous - 'Lots of briquettes in the stove' or 房子後的人特別吵 - fángzi hòu de rén tèbié chǎo - house behind SUB people very noisy - 'The people behind the house are very noisy' ?

In Chinese, normally, 的 de comes after a noun/pronoun (鄰居的房子 línjū de fángzi 'neighbor's house', 我的手機 wǒ de shǒujī 'my cell phone'), an adjective (嚴重的問題 yánzhòng de wèntí 'serious problem'), or a clause (他們寫的不是詩 tāmen xiě de bùshì shī 'What they write is not poetry').

Is it possible that a subordinator (also called attributive particle, something like "of" in English) marks the syntactic relation between an adposition and a noun?

For the context, there is a debate on whether these "postpositions" form one word with the noun they follow, or whether, like in the analysis defended by Paul, these postpositions are indeed postpositions and form a phrase with the noun they follow.

References

Paul, W. (2015). New perspectives on Chinese syntax. De Gruyter Mouton.

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  • It looks like 的 de refers to the whole NP noun+postposition making the NP an attribute of what follows it, just like the English ’s, 爐子裡的煤球 lúzǐ lǐ de méiqiú works like “*in-the-stove's briquette”
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 13:43
  • I agree that it is what it does, but I doubt that we can have a genitive marking the relation between an adposition and a noun. For the context, there is a debate on whether these "postpositions" form one word with the noun they follow, or whether, like in the analysis defended by Paul, these postpositions are indeed postpositions and form a phrase with the noun they follow
    – Starckman
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 13:55
  • On Chinese SE they're telling you the same thing that I wrote above: irrespective of whether noun+postposition is just one word or a noun phrase, 的 de marks the relation between this «noun+postposition» entity and the noun that follows, it is [Noun + Postposition] + Subordinator + Noun.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 15:37
  • Here is how I responded: "The postposition is linked to the the preceding noun, I do agree. If the head of the phrase Noun+Postposition is the postposition (which it normally is, since adpositions are heads of adpositional phrases), this means that, then, it is the postposition that is directly linked to 的. This is what I found weird, and what motivated me to ask this question."
    – Starckman
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 5:45
  • 1
    "La cuisine de chez nous"
    – xngtng
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 12:19

1 Answer 1

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According to Paul (2015: 95), 裡 lǐ 'in', 後 hòu 'behind', etc. are postpositions.

I thing this is true; however, in origin, these can be considered as grammaticalized nouns marked for locative use. For example, the character 裡 can refer to the lining of a garment as a free noun (almost). Such nouns also exist in Semitic languages (e.g., تحت الموقد taḥt almawqid) and also in Mande languages.

As locative nouns, Chinese postpositions can be thought of as presuming an underlying verb indicating location, meaning that 爐子裡的煤球很多 lúzǐ lǐ de méiqiú hěn duō (the brickets inside the oven) is a shortened from of the "relative" clause 爐子裡的煤球很多 zài lúzǐ lǐ de méiqiú hěn duō (the brickets that are inside the oven). English has almost the same choice of structure, except that the dependence is marked only by the word order.

As grammaticalized nouns, it would be unremarkable for Chinese postposition to be used with a subordinator like 的, since all nouns can be used in this way. As parts of a shortened "relative" clause, it also would be unremarkable for them to be used with 的, since all clauses can be used in this way.

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