Productivity and Constraint on Multi-Verb Constructions in Old Japanese

Wenchao Li


Old Japanese is a dead language from the Asuka and Nara periods (7th - 8th century AD). Its writing system, case system and word order make it distinct from Modern Japanese in many respects. This study presents a quantitative linguistic analysis to the patterns of multiple verb combining in Old Japanese. To this end, two databases were built: multi-verb construction in the Early Nara Period written in variant Chinese (AD. 712) and purely classical Chinese (AD. 720), and multi-verb construction in the Late Nara Period written by man’yōgana (AD. 759).The findings reveal that, in the Nara period, the formation of multi-verb constructions is an issue of verb serialisingand is facilitated at a syntactic level. Grammaticalisation of unaccusative change-of-state verbs and motion verbs results in tighter integrity of multiple verbs, which, in turn, inspires the device of verb compounding.The entropy ofthe Vfinal unaccusative reveals that the formation via verb serialising is more productive than the formation via verb compounding.

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