Mei and dou in chinese

A tale of two quantifiers

Qiong Peng Luo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


This study addresses two outstanding puzzles about the two well-known quantifiers mei and dou in Chinese: (i) the indefinite/definite asymmetry when mei leads the subject NP: dou is not needed when there is an indefinite or a reflexive object within the scope of mei and (ii) the subject/object asymmetry: when mei leads the subject NP, its distribution is restricted, depending on the type of the objects, and, by contrast, when it leads the object NP, its distribution is much freer. We propose a novel account for these puzzles. We argue that (i) the indefinite/definite asymmetry can be explained away if we assume that mei is a distributive quantifier with a portmanteau semantic structure, i.e., that it is a standard universal quantifier plus a matching function; (ii) mei can be domain-shifted into a distributive determiner to satisfy interpretability, and this explains the subject/object asymmetry and (iii) this domain-shifting is regulated by the Principle of Economy (cf. Reinhart (2006)), which is a last resort to satisfy interpretability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-158
Number of pages48
JournalTaiwan Journal of Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Determiners
  • Distributive quantification
  • Dou
  • Mei
  • Quantifiers

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