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The Construction Morphology Analysis of Chinese Word Formation

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The Construction of Words

Part of the book series: Studies in Morphology ((SUMO,volume 4))

Abstract

The lexicon of Modern Chinese is characterised by a preponderance of multimorphemic words, which are typically built from lexical morphemes, either bound or free. Compounding, broadly understood as the combination of two or more lexical morphemes, is by far the most common word formation device in the modern language. While drawing a sharp boundary between compounding and derivation for Chinese has proven difficult, there are indeed a number of items which possess derivation-like features, including bound status, fixed position, and a stable, often bleached meaning. Moreover, bound items, sometimes without morphemic status, may acquire the meaning of a word as part of a construction, and generate new words and constructions with that acquired meaning. In this chapter, we will apply the principles of CxM to the analysis of Chinese complex words, showing how a constructional approach may best explain several phenomena which are characteristic of Chinese word formation, including the genesis of new meanings for lexical morphemes as part of word formation schemas, rather than in isolation. Also, we will show that the parameter of headedness in compounding may not be set for the language as a whole, but is rather specified in schemas.

Traditional characters have been used as a default for Chinese; the romanisation system used is Hanyu Pinyin. The glosses follow the general guidelines of the Leipzig Glossing Rules; additional glosses include mod ‘modification’. For academic purposes, Giorgio F. Arcodia is responsible for Sects. 3, 3.1, 3.2, 4 and 6, and Bianca Basciano is responsible for Sects. 1, 2, 3.1.1 and 5.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    However, what is at issue here is the metalinguistic notion of ‘word’; the psychological reality of multimorphemic words has been proven by a number of psycholinguistic studies (see Packard 2000: 16–18 and the references cited therein).

  2. 2.

    A more detailed definition of the syntactic word in Chinese, including a number of tests for syntactic wordhood, may be found in Dai (1998). For a criticism of the notion of ‘syntactic word’, see Dixon and Aikhenvald (2002).

  3. 3.

    Subordinate compounds entail a relation of complementation between the head and the non-head, as in the case of compounds with a deverbal head constituent, as Eng. truck-driver. A similar relation can be found in compounds that do not have a deverbal head too, as e.g. in [N + N] compounds where the constituents are typically linked by what may be called an ‘of-relation’, as in doorknob (‘knob of a door’). The head of these compounds, e.g. leg in table leg, according to Lieber (2009: 88), has two arguments: the typical ‘R’ argument of a noun, which establishes referentiality (see Higginbotham 1985), and an additional argument (e.g. leg of the table). In this kind of compounds, the non-head constituent satisfies the ‘non-R’ argument of the head (see Basciano 2010: 17).

  4. 4.

    In attributive compounds the constituents are linked by a relation of attribution. The prototypical case involves compounds in which the modifier is an adjective, as in high school, but other structural types are found too, as e.g. [N + N] compounds, in which the non-head is used as a metaphoric attribute of the head, as in swordfish (‘fish with a sword-like snout’). This type of compounds includes many of the compounds which are generally termed ‘root compounds’ in the literature (see Lieber 2009). Head constituents can belong to any lexical category, as e.g. Eng. snow-white.

  5. 5.

    Actually, V2 is mostly an adjectival lexeme; however, since these items may be used as change of state verbs too, they are often considered verbs (see e.g. Basciano 2010).

  6. 6.

    As for 騎馬 qí-mǎ ‘ride-horse, ride a horse’, one could wonder, as pointed out by a reviewer, why should we treat it as a compound and not as a phrase like 騎自行車 qí zìxíngchē ‘ride a bike’. Here the difference lies mainly in the referentiality of the object. In 騎馬 qí-mǎ ‘ride-horse, ride a horse’, the object ‘horse’ is not necessarily referential, but can be simply interpreted as part of the verb meaning ‘ride a horse, ride, be on horseback’, like dummy objects (as e.g. 吃飯 chī-fàn ‘eat-rice, eat’, where ‘rice’ is a dummy object). Consider the following sentence, containing a resultative compound:

    我騎累了馬。

    qí-lèi

    le

    1sg

    ride-tired

    pfv

    horse

    ‘I rode the horse tired’

    It can have two interpretations: the preferred one is that according to which the horse is tired (I rode and as a result the horse got tired), since when a resultative compounds is followed by an object, the result should be predicated of the object; in this case, the ‘horse’ is interpreted as referential. However, another interpretation is possible too, i.e. the one according to which ‘I’ got tired. This can be explained considering ‘horse’ as a non-referential object, part of the verb meaning, i.e. ‘I got tired by riding’. For the same reason, the sentence in a. below is ungrammatical, while b. is acceptable:

    a.

    *我騎累了自行車

    qí-lèi

    le

    zìxíngchē

    1sg

    ride-tired

    pfv

    bike

    ‘I rode the bike tired’

    b.

    我開累了車

    kāi-lèi

    le

    chē

    1sg

    drive-tired

    pfv

    car

    ‘I drove myself tired.’

    In the first example, ‘bike’ is a referential object, thus the result should be predicated of the object; however the result ‘tired’ cannot be predicated of a non-animated object, and thus the sentence is ungrammatical. In contrast, the object of the second example, ‘car’, can be considered as a non-referential object, part of the verb 開車 kāi-chē ‘drive or start a car, train, etc.; set a machine in motion’; ‘car’ thus is not a real object and, as such, the sentence can have a subject-oriented reading. Indeed, if we replace the object 車 chē ‘car’ with a car name, e.g. ‘BMW’, the sentence becomes ungrammatical (for an overview of the issue, see Basciano 2010).

  7. 7.

    In this case, then, it would be interpreted as a right-headed subordinate compound made of two nominal constituents, as the instantiation of the schema seen above (Fig. 1), i.e. [Ni Nj]Nk ↔ [SEMj with relation ARGUMENT to SEMi]k.

  8. 8.

    The choice of the constituent to stand for the whole compound does not follow strict principles, and is hence fairly unpredictable (for some tendencies, see Ceccagno and Basciano 2009).

  9. 9.

    Some interesting differences between compounding and derivation become apparent if one looks at the selectional properties of compound constituents and of derivational affixes: see Scalise et al. (2005: 142–146) for an overview.

  10. 10.

    Note that loss/bleaching of meaning is crucial here, as loss of tone for the second constituent in a complex word per se is a diagnostic for lexicalisation of a compound, rather than grammaticalisation into an affix: compare 打手 dǎ shǒu ‘to hit the hand’ and 打手 dǎshou ‘thug’ (Anderson 1985: 42–43).

  11. 11.

    Note that, in this connection, the writing system plays a role too. For instance, the perfective marker 了 le, deriving from the verb 了 liǎo ‘to finish’, while having developed a reduced sound shape, not obviously related to the verb, is still written with the same character, which makes the connection look rather obvious, at least for literate speakers.

  12. 12.

    http://buzzword.shanghaidaily.com/ (last access: 6/2/2017).

  13. 13.

    We excluded words in which 客 bears the meaning ‘guest’ or ‘client’, as e.g. 顧客 gùkè ‘customer’, and compounds in which the righthand constituent is a 客 neologism, as 心理黑客xīnlǐ-hēikè ‘psychology-hacker, a person who helps others solve psychological issues’.

  14. 14.

    fěn (literally, ‘powder’) here stands for 粉絲 fěnsī, a phonetic adaptation of Eng. fan.

  15. 15.

    The Chinese term refers to a person who does not dress fashionably but is addicted to and good at computers.

  16. 16.

    It refers to the maker culture, which represents a technology-based extension of the DIY (do-it-yourself) culture.

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Arcodia, G.F., Basciano, B. (2018). The Construction Morphology Analysis of Chinese Word Formation. In: Booij, G. (eds) The Construction of Words. Studies in Morphology, vol 4. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-74394-3_9

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