Shì as a complementizer

Zhaole Yang

ABSTRACT: In this article, it is argued that a purely functional and semantically bleached shì in Mandarin could in many contexts be best analyzed as a complementizer. As such, it is comparable to English that and functions as an (optional) introducer of the clausal arguments. Our survey shows that the morpheme shì as a complementizer occurs after quite a number of clause introducing operators, for instance, epistemic modals, clausal adverbs, clausal conjunctions, and verbs taking clausal objects like psych verbs and speech-act verbs. Like in some other languages, e.g., the West African language Twi and Dutch, the complementizer can merge with a preceding element and the two elements are turned into one frozen combination involving reanalysis and constituency rebracketing. We argue that Mandarin shì has gone through similar developments as complementizer in many frozen combinations such as shuōshì. As a piece of additional evidence, we find that in Gangou dialect, a Mandarin variant, shì can also take on a complementizer function. In the end, based on the fact that shì is used as a demonstrative pronoun in Pre-Qin times, we argue that Mandarin indeed has complementizers from two different sources out of the five major sources across languages listed by Chappell (2017), i.e., shuō, the complementizer (as argued by many) originally from a verb of saying, and shì, originally a demonstrative.