City University of Hong Kong Dep
Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
Core Lexicon in Mandarin
Patterns, and Implications
Prof. Hongyin Tao
University of California, Los Angeles
Date: 23 Jun 2008, Monday
Time: 4:30pm - 6:00pm
Venue: B7603 (Lift 3, 7/F, Blue Zone), Academic Building, CityU
As early as in the 1930s, the American linguist George Zipf looked at distributional properties of the lexicon (including in Beijing Chinese) and observed some striking tendencies where 1) a small number of lexical items have very high frequencies in texts and that 2) in general the magnitude of words tends to stand in an inverse relationship to the number of occurrences. However, there have been a lot of controversial proposals as to why this would be possible. In this paper I attempt to contribute to the understanding of this puzzle by investigating corpora of natural spoken Mandarin. Word frequencies will be calculated from corpora, as are those of word combinations. I suggest that the key to understanding the tendencies observed by Zipf is the nature of word clusters and their role in interactive discourse. I will exam the major groups of top lexical items on the word list of spoken corpora and show that frequent words rarely work alone, but rather appear in tandem, forming various kinds of clusters or bundles. Such bundles may or may not share with individual components grammatical, semantic, and pragmatic meanings, yet their recurrence accounts for the high frequencies of the constituents when treated individually, as has been done traditionally. The results reported here call into question long-standing views of the nature of lexical and grammatical units, where individual words are seen as independent meaningful units, and support instead Sinclair's proposal of a continuum involving open grammar, reserved grammar, and closed grammar.
Dr. Hongyin Tao(University of California, Los Angeles) is Professor of Chinese Language and Linguistics in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, with a joint appointment in the Department of Applied Linguistics and TESL. Prior to UCLA, he taught at the National University of Singapore and Cornell University. He has published widely in the areas of discourse analysis, Chinese linguistics, English linguistics, and corpus linguistics. Major publications include Units in Mandarin Conversation: Prosody, Discourse, and Grammar (John Benjamins, 1996) and Dangdai Shehui Yuyanxue (Current Trends in Sociolinguistics, 2nd edition, Zhongguo Sheke, 2004). He is currently the Chinese project director for a US Department of Education sponsored project in corpus-based advanced Chinese language teaching.
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