Splittable compounds (SCs) are verbal constructions in Chinese that consist of two parts which are separable by some interposing elements, though they behave like and are usually considered as single words when they are not separated. For many years, SCs in Chinese have presented a challenge to existing morphological and syntactic theories for their morpho-syntactic status. The present study takes a corpus-based approach to the SCs in their interaction with morphology, syntax, and pragmatics, aiming at producing a systematic and realistic account of SCs as attested in 2 million words of authentic spoken and written Chinese data. The results show that the typical grammatical pattern of SCs is constitutive of an aspect marker (-le, -zhe, -guo) or resultative verb complements as post-verbal adjacent elements (54% of all SCs), and a quantifier, a classifier, a modifier or a combination of two or more of them which precede the nominal components of SCs. Drawing on morpho-syntactic and phonological criteria, the split uses, together with their combined uses, of SCs with one inserted aspectual morpheme are viewed as words, while the others are regarded as phrases. From a discourse-pragmatic perspective, the split use of SCs is more often found in the spoken genres of Chinese. Insertions of SCs tend to function as mitigation or modification to the verbal heads or final nominal/complement elements.
Siewierska, A., Xu, J., & Xiao, R. (2010). Bang-le yi ge da mang (offered a big helping hand): a corpus study of the splittable compounds in spoken and written Chinese. Language Sciences, 32(4), 464-487. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langsci.2009.08.002