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Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory

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Exploring semantic preference and semantic prosody across English and Chinese: Their roles for cross-linguistic equivalence

Naixing Wei / Xiaohong Li
Published Online: 2013-06-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2013-0018


Semantic preference and semantic prosody have been explored extensively in both monolingual and contrastive linguistic contexts. However, few contrastive linguistic studies have been undertaken to look at the semantic preference and semantic prosody in a non-European language, such as Chinese, which is very different from English (with notable exceptions such as Tao 2003, and Xiao and McEnery 2006), still less addressing the complex relationships between semantic preference and prosody and cross-linguistic equivalence. The present study addresses important features of semantic preference and prosody across English and Chinese and examines their roles in achieving equivalence between corresponding lexical items of the two languages. We start with recurrent translation equivalents extracted from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Parallel Corpus and move on to observe the semantic preferential and prosodic profiles of translation pairs in two comparable corpora, namely, the Chinese National Corpus and the British National Corpus. Analyses show that semantic prosody is inseparably linked with patterns of co-selection, and a word may be associated with more than one semantic prosody, realized in more than one pattern of co-selection. By the same token, cross-linguistic equivalence resides only in corresponding patterns of words under study, not corresponding single words in the two languages. It suggests that semantic prosodic strength is a useful indicator of degrees of equivalence and non-equivalence whilst both semantic preference and semantic prosody impact equivalence and translatability. The study also shows that the relationship between syntax and semantic prosody in Chinese is rather different from that in English, suggesting that colligation in Chinese is much more complex, deserving a more rigorous definition. Finally, the article addresses practical implications for future semantic prosody studies, contrastive linguistic and translation studies and foreign language pedagogy.

Keywords: cross-linguistic equivalence; patterning; semantic prosody; bilingual corpora; semantic prosodic strength

About the article

Naixing Wei

Naixing Wei is Professor of English at Beihang University in China, where he also serves as Vice Dean of Foreign Languages School, and Director of Linguistic Sciences and Engineering Laboratory. He is currently the president of the Corpus Linguistics Society of China (CLSC). With an MA in English from Birmingham University and a PhD in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, his major research interests cover methodology in corpus construction, corpus-driven studies in applied linguistics issues, Contrastive Interlanguage Analysis, English for Academic Purposes, and phraseology. In the past decade Naixing has directed three research projects supported by China National Social Sciences Foundation and two research projects funded by China's Ministry of Education, and has published five monographs and 30 research papers. He is a member of editorial board for the journals of Contemporary Foreign Languages and Foreign Languages and Their Teaching.

Xiaohong Li

Xiaohong Li is a lecturer of English at Shanghai University of Electric Power. She earned her PhD in linguistics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Her research interests cover corpus linguistics, discourse analysis and second language acquisition. She has been a key member of several corpus linguistic research projects in China and published numerous papers in corpus research in key journals.

Published Online: 2013-06-27

Published in Print: 2014-05-01

Citation Information: Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 103–138, ISSN (Online) 1613-7035, ISSN (Print) 1613-7027, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2013-0018.

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