I am a theoretical linguist currently working as a “Hundred Talents Program” researcher at Zhejiang University (Hangzhou, China). Before taking up my current position (May 2020), I studied at the University of Cambridge (Gonville & Caius College), from where I received my PhD degree in Linguistics (Oct. 2019). Before Cambridge, I had studied at Beijing Foreign Studies University (majoring in Hungarian). I am curious about all aspects of human language and am particularly fascinated by its syntactic module. I mainly work within the theoretical framework of Noam Chomsky's transformational generative grammar but am open-minded about other frameworks too. I enjoy learning new perspectives and am always happy to observe how different theories converge. I also actively explore interdisciplinary directions in my research and endeavor to seek common ground across paradigms.
My main research area is syntax (and its interfaces with morphology/semantics). I do both synchronic and diachronic research and am particularly interested in understudied Chinese varieties, many of which are also endangered. I have worked on the following Chinese varieties either directly or indirectly (e.g., via supervising student projects):
- Mandarin: Standard Mandarin, Dongying Mandarin, Sichuan/Chongqing Mandarin
- Wu: Wenzhou Wu, Xinchang Wu
- Jin: Gaoping Jin
- Hakka: Heyuan Hakka
Beyond Chinese, I am interested in detailed crosslinguistic comparison in general. Languages I have previously worked on include English, German, Hungarian, Japanese, etc. Below are some specific phenomena I have investigated:
- Complex/compound words
- Aspects and event structure
- Semifunctional/semilexical vocabulary items
- Sentence-final particles
Aside from empirical studies, my research also involves a highly conceptual and metatheoretical aspect. Below are some of the more abstract issues I have worked on:
- Foundations of syntactic categories
- Theory of linguistic features
- Category theory and its application in linguistics
Overall, my academic enthusiasm lies in formally rigorous and logically consistent analysis of human language. Outside of my main research domains, I also like thinking about the following language-related topics:
- Internet language (e.g., emojis, neologisms)
- Writing systems (especially Chinese characters)
- Linguistically aided language learning
- Categorical linguistics (linguistics + mathematics), since 2019
Applying category theory to theoretical linguistics, with a focus on the big picture and general directions [a glimpse]
- Resultative compounds in Chinese dialects, since 2017
Examining the internal syntax of resultative verb compounds across Chinese varieties [latest talk]
- Noncanonical pronouns, since 2021
Investigating pronominal items that cannot be easily put in established categoriess [a new book chapter]
- Typology of semilexicality, since 2021
Surveying different types of semilexical elements across a wide range of languages and attempting to provide a unified account within the framework of root syntax [preliminary results]
- PhD dissertation (defended with no corrections)
University of Cambridge, 2019
On the formal flexibility of syntactic categories [abstract, archived version]
- PhD first-year report
University of Cambridge, 2016
A minimalist study of complex verb formation: Crosslinguistic patterns and variation [full text]
- MPhil dissertation (High Distinction)
University of Cambridge, 2015
Structural variation in Chinese compound verbs: A comparative study of Standard Mandarin and Dongying Dialect [full text]
- BA dissertation (Outstanding)
Beijing Foreign Studies University, 2013
A magyar és a német igekötők összehasonlítása szintaktikai és szemantikai szempontból [A comparison of Hungarian and German verbal prefixes from syntactic and semantic perspectives] [full text in Hungarian]
- In prep. An overview of categorical linguistics (for linguists).
- 2022. On Hilbert’s epsilon operator in Form Sequence [manuscript (v2, Feb. 2022)]
- 2022 (with Ke Javena Wu). Ways of telicization in Chinese resultative compounds. Studies in Generative Grammar, 32(3), 425–459. (peer-reviewed and extended version of the SICOGG23 proceedings paper)
- 2018. Severing telicity from result: On two types of resultative compound verb in Dongying Mandarin. Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 27(3), 275–307.
- 2017. Prosodically-driven morphosyntactic change? Revisiting the history of Chinese disyllabic words. Cambridge Occasional Papers in Linguistics 10, 152–196.
- 2023 (with Li Nguyen and Theresa Biberauer). Alternative pronominal items: Noncanonical pronouns in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Afrikaans. In L. Paterson (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Pronouns. New York: Routledge, pp. 148–164. New
- 2020. Categorizing verb-internal modifiers. In T. Biberauer, S. Vikner, A. Bárány & J. Douglas (eds.) Syntactic architecture and its consequences I: Syntax inside the grammar. Berlin: Language Science Press, pp. 357–384.
- 2023 (with Chenghao Hu). Result marker vs. result highlighter: on the internal syntax of Chinese resultative compounds. Talk at the “Resultatives: new approaches and renewed perspectives” workshop. Singapore, Mar. 20–22. [slides]
- 2022. Weakening cartography: on the formal foundation of functional hierarchies. Poster at the 24th Seoul International Conference on Generative Grammar (SICOGG24). Online, Aug. 12–14. [e-poster, paper (preprint), paper (official)]
- 2022. A formal linguistic approach to affective emojis in CMC. Talk at the Seoul International Conference on Linguistics (SICOL2022). Online, Aug. 11–12. [slides]
- 2022. Category theory in theoretical linguistics: A monadic semantics for root syntax. Poster at the 5th International Conference on Applied Category Theory (ACT2022). Online, Jul. 18–22. [e-poster, abstract]
- 2022. The logic of words: A monadic decomposition of lexical meaning. Talk at the Australasian Association for Logic Annual Conference (AAL2022). Online, Jun. 22–24. [slides]
- 2022. Sentence-final particle vs. sentence-final emoji: The syntax-pragmatics interface in the era of CMC. Talk at Grapholinguistics in the 21st Century (grafematik2022). Online, Jun. 8–10. [video, slides, paper, extended version]
- 2021. On the semantics of root syntax: Challenges and directions. Talk at the 18th Logic and Engineering of Natural Language Semantics workshop (LENLS18). Online, Nov. 13–15. [video, slides, paper]
- 2021. A typology of semilexicality and the locus of grammatical variation. Talk at the 9th International Conference on Formal Linguistics (ICFL9). Online, Nov. 5–7. [video, slides]
- 2021 (with Ke Javena Wu). Ways of telicization in resultative compounds. Talk at the 23rd Seoul International Conference on Generative Grammar (SICOGG23). Online, Aug. 13–15. [video, paper, extended paper]
- 2021 (with Li Nguyen). Noncanonical pronominal items in Vietnamese and Chinese: Imposters or true pronouns? Talk at the 30th Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (SEALS30) Conference. Online, Jun. 1. [video, paper]
- 2020. Grammatical types that cannot be: A category-theoretic theorem for Chomsky-school generative syntax. Poster at the Applied Category Theory (ACT) conference. Online, Jul. 6–10. [e-poster, extended abstract]
- 2017. Revisiting non-inverting particle verbs in Hungarian. Talk at International Conference on the Structure of Hungarian (ICSH) 13. Budapest, Jun. 29–30. [slides]
- 2017. There is no root-root merger: Revisiting Chinese non-endocentric compounds. Talk at Roots V Workshop. London, Jun. 17–18. [slides, manuscript]
- 2017. Revisiting Chinese P: Is it a necessary category? Speed talk at Morphosyntactic Variation in Adpositions Workshop. Cambridge, May 8–9. [slides]
- 2017. Emergent [V] flavors and minimized flexibility of lexical categories. Talk at Cambridge Comparative Syntax (CamCoS) 6. Cambridge, May 4–6. [slides]
- 2016. Blocked particle verb movement in German and Hungarian: A unified analysis. Talk at Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB) Annual Meeting. York, Sep. 6–9. [slides]
- 2016. Revisiting Chinese potential constructions: Cross-dialectal variation. Talk at 11th Newcastle Postgraduate Conference in Linguistics. Newcastle, Mar. 18. [slides]
- 2022. Sentence-final particle vs. sentence-final emoji: The syntax-pragmatics interface in the era of CMC (extended version of the grafematik talk). Cambridge SyntaxLab, Jun. 28. [slides]
- 2020. Complex verb mobility in Germanic languages: Variation and parameterization. Zhejiang University, Jun. 19. [slides]
- 2019. Adjunction in minimalism: Ideas and ideals. Zhejiang University, Nov. 11. [slides]
- 2019. Towards a nontrivial notion of granularity in generative syntax. Zhejiang University, Nov. 11. [slides]
- 2019. Granularity in generative syntax and why it matters. Cambridge SyntaxLab, Oct. 15. [slides]
- 2019. More than abstract nonsense: A Category-theoretic sketch of the syntactic category system. Cambridge SyntaxLab, Jan. 29. [slides]
- 2018. Root-supported categories and their morphosyntactic characteristics. Cambridge SyntaxLab, May 1. [handout for Part I][slides for Part II]
- 2017. The flexibility of categorial features: Types and consequences. Cambridge SyntaxLab, Feb. 7. [slides]
- 2023. Response to Notes and queries “What languages do native speakers of Mandarin and Arabic find the hardest to learn?” The Guardian. Jul. 9.
- 2017. From bedtime to spacetime : The hidden language behind compound words. Talk at the Gonville & Caius Graduate Research Symposium. Oct. 22.
- 2017. Universal Grammar and where to find it. Gonville & Caius MCR/SCR talk. May 30.
- 2016. Event and its aspects: How do different languages talk about events with their verbs? Talk at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas (Linguistics Day). Oct. 22.
I run my own blog named I-Yuwen and like posting articles about language and linguistics (especially in relation to Chinese) on it when I have time. I sometimes post stuff about mathematics too, mainly about category theory. Below is a selection of my posts:
- Sep. 2021. Classical Chinese and programming
- Jan. 2021. Some 1000-year-old doodles... and some thoughts on Classical Chinese teaching in the 21st century
- Dec. 2020. What did Chinese textbooks look like in the 19th century?
- Nov. 2020. Carving civilization into stone…and the “Chinese Rosetta Stone”
- Sep 2020. Dobby's pronominal system
- Apr. 2020. Generative grammar for I Ching divination
- Apr 2020. Where is language from?
- Feb. 2020. Bilingualism helps prevent dementia? And a remark on “scholarly longevity”
- Oct. 2019. Why are apples so beloved (linguistically)?
- Aug.–Sep. 2019. Category theory notes series
- Sep. 2019. Language in a Qing-Dynasty polyglot’s eyes
- Aug. 2019. Fictional languages and the linguistic view in Three-Body
I have a YouTube channel and occasionally upload original videos to it about my professional or personal studies. All my videos and related materials are freely available, but if you want to buy me a coffee (either in person or online) I will happily accept it too. ;-)
- Most watched:
- Active series:
In the past, I have contributed to the creation of a short film on the multimodal nature of human language:
- 2016 (with Craig Pearson and Toby Smith). Talk with Your Hands: Communicating across the Sensory Spectrum. Short film made for the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.
I have been contributing to the formation of a theoretical linguistics community at ZJU. Among others, I have initiated a cluster of reading groups (collectively named Tsing Ho Ling after the café where we usually meet) for graduate and advanced undergraduate students. We currently have three subgroups: two for formal syntax (respectively for beginners and more advanced students) and one for formal semantics (for beginners). These groups are mainly meant to help local students get familiar with formal (especially generative) linguistics, but we also welcome remote participants. All our meetings are hybrid. For more information, visit our website.
When I'm not doing linguistics, I like watching movies or TV series, listening to podcasts, drinking tea or coffee, and occasionally traveling away (which has been very occasional in the last three years due to COVID-19). Sometimes I also like taking random photos of interesting things I see. In the future, I would like to try some new pastimes like iPad painting.
What job would I be doing if I were not a linguistician? :-)