Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 89–114

Word-length preferences in Chinese: a corpus study

Authors

    • Department of LinguisticsUniversity of Michigan
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10831-011-9087-y

Cite this article as:
Duanmu, S. J East Asian Linguist (2012) 21: 89. doi:10.1007/s10831-011-9087-y

Abstract

Are there preferred word-length combinations in Chinese? If there are, are they motivated by semantics, syntax, prosody, or a combination of these? While the issue has been discussed for some time, opinions remain divided. This study offers a quantitative analysis of word-length patterns in Chinese [N N] and [V O] sequences, using the Lancaster Corpus of Mandarin Chinese. It is found that 1+2 is overwhelmingly disfavored in [N N] and 2+1 is overwhelmingly disfavored in [V O]. In addition, it is found that apparent exceptions, ranging between 1 and 2%, are limited to certain specific structures, and when these are factored out, both 1+2 [N N] and 2+1 [V O] are well below 1% in either token count or type count. The result bears on several theoretical debates, such as the validity of word-length preferences in Chinese, the motivation of the preferences, the extent and the nature of exceptions, and the interaction among syntax, semantics, and phonology.

Keywords

Word-length preferencesElastic word lengthCorpus analysisSyntax–phonology interactionProsodyMetrical structure

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011