Trying to situate Chinese into the typology of labile verbs (verbs that may be used transitively or intransitively), this paper analyzes Chinese labile verbals under the framework of cognitive construction grammar. By exhaustively looking at labile verbals in a small corpus, it is found that as an isolating language in which causative (transitive use) or anticausative (intransitive use) is not morphologically marked, Chinese is particularly rich in labile verbals. After estimating how often several target verbals are used transitively and intransitively, two factors grounded in human cognition are revealed determining verbal lability in Chinese: change of state and spontaneity of the event. Change-of-state events give way to two competing profiling strategies, realized as a transitive construction and an intransitive construction, respectively. The degree and direction (transitive-dominated or intransitive-dominated) of verbal lability are sensitive to the likelihood of spontaneous occurrence of the event.

In: Cognitive Semantics