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Classifiers in English and Chinese A corpus-based contrastive study Richard Xiao

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1 Classifiers in English and Chinese A corpus-based contrastive study Richard Xiao

2 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury2 The corpora Two English corpora –Freiburg-LOB (FLOB) –BNCdemo Two Chinese corpora –LCMC –CallHome Mandarin Transcripts Covering a range of genres roughly comparable for the two languages POS tagged, providing a basis for the annotation of classifier use

3 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury3 Typical quantifying constructions In Chinese –Numeral + classifier + noun e.g. 三 (three) 本 (CL) 书 (book) In English –Count noun Numeral + noun (e.g. three books) Numeral + “partitive” + of + noun (e.g. a stack of books) –Noncount noun Numeral + “partitive” + of + noun (e.g. two lumps of sugar)

4 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury4 Chinese as a classifier language A large inventory of classifiers – commonly used classifiers 421 types in LCMC and CallHome Prevalent in Chinese –2.48% of writing and 3.13% of speech Mandatory in Chinese –Omissions are exceptions rather than the norm for classifier use

5 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury5 Chinese as a classifier language Grammatical status –Before classifiers were established a separate word class, they were analyzed as a special group of nouns –Classifiers and nouns are so closely related that no firm line can be drawn between the two out of context –In spite of the interwoven relationship, classifiers were separated from nouns to become a word class of its own in Chinese in the 1950s

6 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury6 Classifiers in Chinese (Xiao 2006)

7 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury7 Does English have classifiers? A debatable issue A subclass of nouns in current English grammar –partitive nouns (Quirk et al 1985) –collective nouns, unit nouns, quantifying nouns, and species nouns etc (Biber et al 1999) While the quantifying function of such nouns has been recognised, their status has rarely been systematically questioned (Brems 2003)

8 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury8 Does English have classifiers? Lyons (1977: 462) –“are very similar, both syntactically, and semantically” fifty head of cattle, three sheets of paper, that lump of iron –“serve exactly the same function – that of individuation and enumeration – as do the classifiers in Tzeltal, Chinese and Burmese” –“semantically relevant points” Allan (1977), Lyons (1977), and Lehrer (1986) –Classifiers in English: numeral + classifier + of + noun

9 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury9 Categories of classifiers in English Allan (1977) and Lehrer’s (1986: 111) seven categories of classifiers –unit counters (e.g. a piece of furniture) Unit classifiers –collective classifiers (e.g. a herd of animals) –varietal classifiers (e.g. all kinds of flowers) Species classifiers –arrangement classifiers (e.g. 3 stacks of books) –measure classifiers Exact measures (e.g. two pounds of potatoes) –Standardised measure classifiers Inexact measures (e.g. a bucket of water) –Container classifiers –? fractional classifiers (three quarters of the cake vs. half of the cake) –? number set classifiers (many hundreds of them vs. three hundred of them)

10 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury10 Types of classifiers in English Two more types of classifiers –Temporal classifiers E.g. 200 hours of community service –Verbal classifier times indicating the occurrences of an action or event E.g. I’ve seen it three times now. If their semantic parallels in Chinese are classifiers, then it is also reasonable to analyze them as classifiers in English –Eight semantic categories of classifiers in English and Chinese

11 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury11 8 categories of classifiers Nominal classifiers: Quantifying nouns –Unit classifiers: count individual entities –Collective classifiers: provide a collective reference for separate entities –Arrangement classifiers: also refer to a collection, but focus on the constellation aspect (shape), i.e. how entities are arranged or grouped together –Standardized measure classifiers: express exact measures of various kinds, in local or international units

12 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury12 8 categories of classifiers Nominal classifiers: Quantifying nouns –Container classifiers: denote types of containers, which are borrowed temporarily to provide an inexact measure of mass or entities that are usually associated with such containers –Species classifiers: denote the type of entities grouped together Verbal classifiers: quantify actions and events Temporal classifiers: (exact or inexact) measure time

13 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury13 Proportions of tokens In terms of tokens, unit classifiers are predominant in Chinese while container and collective classifiers are significantly more common in English –Unit classifiers are also the most common type in English, but have a much lower normalized frequency (42 vs. 1,866 instances per 100,000 tokens)

14 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury14 Numbers of types In terms of types, Chinese has a greater number of unit classifiers, standardised measure classifiers, arrangement classifiers and verbal classifiers whereas English uses more collective classifiers and container classifiers

15 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury15 Results of contrastive analysis Of the eight categories of classifiers, the most noticeable difference lies in unit classifiers –Their individuation is mandatory for all nouns in Chinese but required only for noncount nouns in English Other types of classifiers are qualitatively more similar than different in the two languages –They have full lexical meanings and can find their counterparts in other languages in spite of different terms used for them

16 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury16 Results of contrastive analysis An interesting similarity is that a special group of nouns temporarily borrowed as container classifiers in Chinese, which cannot take numerals other than 一 ‘one’ (meaning 满 ‘full’), are parallel to container classifiers ending with the suffix -ful in English –e.g. 一 (one) 肚子 (belly) 气 (anger) ‘full of pent-up anger’; 一 (one) 屋子 (room) 人 (person) ‘a roomful of people’ –e.g. handful, armful, mouthful, roomful –These special container classifiers, which are more descriptive than quantifying are otherwise ordinary nouns

17 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury17 Results of contrastive analysis Standard measure terms, species classifiers, and temporal classifiers do not differ much in English and Chinese, irrespective of some variations in their frequencies of use in the two languages A common feature of arrangement classifiers and unit classifiers in Chinese and English is that they are largely motivated by the cognitive basis of shape –unit classifiers 条, 张 and 块 in Chinese –arrangement classifiers bunch, pile and row in English

18 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury18 Results of contrastive analysis Some classifiers in English and Chinese are also motivated pragmatically –Some English classifiers (e.g. gang, mob and pack) usually refer to a group of people the speaker does not approve of Different from more neutral collective classifiers (e.g. crowd and group) –In Chinese, some collective classifiers (e.g. 伙 ‘crowd, gang’) and verbal classifiers (e.g. 通 ) are habitually negative in evaluation, whereas unit classifiers such as 位 can only be used for respectable people

19 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury19 Results of contrastive analysis There is an important difference in the way actions and events are quantified in the two languages –In Chinese, there are nine fully fledged verbal classifiers and a large number of verbal classifiers borrowed on an ad hoc basis –English uses the specialised verbal classifier times and adverbs once and twice to indicate the number of occurrences. In addition, English relies heavily upon light verb constructions composed of a light verb and a verbal action noun to approximate the quantifying function of borrowed verbal classifiers in Chinese e.g. have a look, give the car a push, fired two shots

20 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury20 Some general differences Different grammatical statuses –A separate word class in Chinese –A subclass of nouns in English Different scopes of use –Mandatory in Chinese –Only required for noncount nouns in English Different frequencies of use –29 times as frequent in Chinese as in English

21 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury21 Syntactic differences English classifiers as a special group of nouns have singular and plural forms while their counterparts in Chinese do not The majority of monosyllabic classifiers in Chinese can be reduplicated to express a grammatical meaning of co-existence or repetition of entities or event whereas classifiers in English cannot

22 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury22 Syntactic differences The numeral 一 ‘one’ in quantifying constructions can be omitted in Chinese if they function as objects, but quantifying determiners and numerals in English cannot – 写(一)封信 ‘write a letter’ Inverted quantifying constructions in the form of ‘noun + numeral + classifier’ are found in Chinese but not in English – 橄榄油 20 毫升,去壳鸡蛋一个 ‘20 ml of olive oil, and one peeled egg’

23 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury23 Syntactic differences While classifiers do not regularly take a modifier, they have a considerably greater variety of modifiers in English than in Chinese –Largely classifier intensifiers in Chinese, emphasizing the large / small quantity or amount (e.g. 大 ‘big, large’, 小 ‘small’, 整 ‘whole’) –Two major types of classifier modifiers in English: classifier intensifiers, and evaluative qualifiers relocated from the noun being quantified (e.g. a late- night cup of coffee) No such relocation occurs with classifier modifiers in Chinese

24 09/05/2015CLASS Canterbury24 Conclusions In spite of their different scopes and frequencies of use, and some language-specific syntactic differences, classifiers in English and Chinese share many common features The differences in use of classifiers in the two languages are largely quantitative rather than qualitative – they are less different from each other than their different terms in current use would suggest In undertaking contrastive research, one must not be confused by the different terms used for the same phenomenon in the languages under consideration


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