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Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory

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Structural and semantic non-correspondences between Chinese splittable compounds and their English translations: A Chinese-English parallel corpus-based study

Jiajin Xu
  • Corresponding author
  • National Research Centre for Foreign Language Education, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing, China
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/ Xiaochen Li
Published Online: 2013-06-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2013-0019


Splittable Compounds (SCs henceforth) are a rather productive type of disyllabic verbal construction in Chinese, whose two morphological elements can be used together or separated by other interposing elements while the semantic integrity remains. The present study examines the English translations of SCs in a Chinese-English parallel corpus of five million Chinese characters and English words. The study takes a form-meaning combined approach to the structural and semantic differences or non-correspondences between SCs and their English translations. The non-correspondences of lexico-grammar and argument structure of SCs and their translations were thoroughly annotated and analysed. The predominant pattern revealed by our corpus investigation is that the English translations of SCs are characterised by semantic explicitation as well as structural explicitation. This is especially true in the English translations of non-split SCs. The split and non-split SCs are translated in different ways morpho-syntactically and semantically. The translations of non-split SCs more often involve rearrangements in argument structure, such as argument addition and semantic alternative, while the translations of split SCs are more likely to involve changes in grammatical properties. The reconfiguration of morpho-syntactic elements and semantic roles may well be explained from the typological differences of the two languages, the verb semantics, and the syntactic contexts of the SCs.

Keywords: Splittable Compounds (SCs) in Chinese; parallel corpus; Chinese-English translation; morpho-syntax; argument structure; structural explicitation; semantic explicitation

About the article

Jiajin Xu

Jiajin Xu is Associate Professor of Linguistics at the National Research Centre for Foreign Language Education, Beijing Foreign Studies University as well as a founding member of the Chinese Society of Corpus Linguistics (CLSC). He obtained his PhD, specialised in Corpus-based Discourse Studies, from Beijing Foreign Studies University, China. From 2008 to 2009, he was post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, UK, working on the ESRC funded project “A Corpus-based Study of Split Words in Chinese: Interfacing morphology, syntax and pragmatics”. He has published a number of English papers in international journals including Language Sciences, Chinese Language and Discourse and ICAME Journal, and over 20 papers on corpus-based discourse studies in top-ranking linguistics journal in China. His recent books include The Use of Discourse Markers in Spoken Chinese of Urban Teenagers (Beijing 2009) and Using Corpora: A Practical Coursebook (co-authored, Beijing 2010).

Xiaochen Li

Xiaochen Li is a doctoral student at Beihang University, Beijing, China. His major research interests include corpus linguistics, contrastive linguistics, discourse studies and pragmatics.

Published Online: 2013-06-27

Published in Print: 2014-05-01

Citation Information: Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 79–101, ISSN (Online) 1613-7035, ISSN (Print) 1613-7027, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2013-0019.

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