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Phondi: Yan Dong on elastic word length in Chinese

Friday, November 14, 2014
12:00 AM
473 Lorch Hall

The Motivation of Elastic Word Length in Chinese: Phonology or Homophone Avoidance?

The Motivation of Elastic Word Length in Chinese: Phonology or Homophone Avoidance?

Chinese has many disyllabic words, such as meitan ‘coal’,  laohu ‘tiger’, and  xuexi ‘study’, most of which can be monosyllabic, too, such as  mei ‘coal’,  hu ‘tiger’, and  xue ‘study’. Such word pairs are called to have “elastic” length (Guo 1938).

 

One fundamental question about word length elasticity is what motivates the creation of disyllabic forms, given that there is already a monosyllabic one existed in the lexicon. There are two main proposals: homophone avoidance and phonology. In the homophone avoidance view, disyllabic words are created to avoid homophones among monosyllabic words. While in the phonology view, disyllabic words are created to fulfill the requirement of prosodically heavy positions. 

 

In this study, I examine the two proposals from the following perspectives: (1) POS size and elasticity (2) Homophone density and elasticity (3) Elastic word length in Classic Chinese (4) Word length in Mandarin and Cantonese (5) Elasticity and boundness. I will show that phonology is the better account for the creation of the word length pairs in Chinese.

Speaker:
Yan Dong