Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, LA1 4YT, United Kingdom
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A corpus-based study of split words in Chinese


Summary: Split words are a type of 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. Chinese split words are formed in a manner which is roughly comparable to infixing and syntactic interposing in English, separable complex verbs in Dutch and German, and phrasal discontinuity in Polish. Nevertheless, split words are essentially different because of the range and nature of interposing elements. Consequently, split words in Chinese present a challenge for existing morphological and syntactic theories. The proposed research will take a corpus-based approach to the study of split words in their interaction with morphology, syntax, stylistics and pragmatics, aiming at producing a systematic and realistic account of Chinese split words as attested in authentic language. The work will be theoretically situated within the framework of prosodic morphology and empirically based upon balanced corpora of written and spoken Chinese amounting to two million words. By investigating Chinese split words in typological comparison with related phenomena in relevant languages, the study will also contribute to a better understanding of the typology of morpho-phonological and morpho-syntactic types in word formation.

Key Facts

Funder: ESRC

Type of Activity: Academic Research - Externally Funded

Principal Investigator: Anna Siewierska

Research Associate: Jiajin Xu (Linguistics and English Language)

Dept/Research Groups: Linguistics and English Language, Language Variation and Linguistic Theory (LVLT)

Keywords: Chinese, Corpus linguistics, Morphology

Research Significance

Academic - SWs have long been (Chao 1968; Lu 1957; Lü 1979; Yu 2003; Zhou 2006) a problem in grammatical description in Chinese due to their boundary-crossing nature. Some researchers who accept the gestalt status of SWs in their lexical semantics argue that split SWs are allomorphs of their isomorphic combined uses. Structural account of SWs, however, maintains that to be a word, lexical integrity has to be observed. The latter line of argument favours the phrasal status of split SWs and lexical status of combined SWs. What this latter treatment fails to explain is the high boundness or great idiomatisation of the two SW constituents, i.e. many SWTs are always to be found after certain SWH verbs, either immediately adjacent to them or in close proximity.

Other - The research will be conducive to pedagogy and dictionary making. SWs have been a problem in Chinese language teaching, especially, for CSL (Chinese as Second Language) learners. Dictionary makers are also confused about SW categorization. For example, the most authoritative Chinese dictionary, Modern Chinese Dictionary (2005) uses double slash "//" , as in xi3//zao3 and dan1//xin1, to represent the splitability of such words, meaning that the words can be interposed by other elements. Neither scholars nor language learners are happy with the double slash notation, which doesn't help to reveal the nature and the usage of SWs.

Purpose of Research

Academic Research - Externally Funded

Project Funder