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4 - Characters as Basic Lexical Units and Monosyllabicity in Chinese

from Part Two - Morpho-lexical Issues in Chinese

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2022

Chu-Ren Huang
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Yen-Hwei Lin
Michigan State University
I-Hsuan Chen
University of California, Berkeley
Yu-Yin Hsu
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
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This chapter revisits the character-based approach to Chinese grammar and the ongoing debate about how to define the concept of a word in Chinese. The authors provide a variety of evidence, including distributional generalizations in corpus and Chinese word-level and phrase-level rules, such as Mandarin alphabetic words, replaceable idioms, and abbreviations, to argue that character and monosyllabicity plays an indispensable role in Chinese linguistics. It is shown that although words do serve as basic units in Chinese grammar, yet some important generalizations of Chinese grammar cannot be achieved without also employing the concept of characters. The examples provided in the chapter show that some morphosyntactic constraints can be better accommodated by treating characters as basic units in addition to words. In conclusion, the authors return to an integrated account of character as both an orthographic and linguistic unit in Chinese. This integrated account captures fully and more precisely Chinese syntactic and word formation behaviors that had been challenging to word-based accounts.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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