Interpreting Non-Canonical Arguments in Mandarin Chinese through Metonymy
Figurative Language Processing
Second Language Acquisition
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis study investigates how L1 and L2 users of Mandarin perceive a rare construction in Mandarin that involves interpreting an NP in the object position as a location argument or instrument argument instead of as a theme/patient argument. For example, kai zuoshou (literally “drive left-hand”) has been used to mean “use the left hand to drive” (Lin, 2014). Some explanations for the interpretation/production of non-canonical arguments invoke Davidsonian event structure while other explanations defer to Chinese typology and semantics. However, the latter explanation diminishes the role of grammatical structure in meaning-making, and the former explanation allows the production of infelicitous sentences. Those who have addressed this phenomenon themselves acknowledge limitations of event structure and either reference “semantic extension” (Lin 2014) or the “conventional/institutionalized relationships between the verb and object” (Li, 2014). The first part of the study argues that (1) metonymic relationships are implicated in the use of an NP as a non-canonical argument, (2) that for the argument to be interpretable, the metonymic relationship must be made salient through context, world knowledge and active frames or denied saliency by lack of access to the same, and (3) that the degree of saliency determines the degree of interpretability and the degree of acceptability. The second and third parts use survey data of L1 and L2 Mandarin users, respectively, to determine how interpretable and acceptable Mandarin users find non-canonical arguments to be when the following factors were manipulated: context v. no-context; bare noun phrase v. determiner phrase; conventional collocations v. unattested collocations; and location arguments v. instrument arguments. For L2 users, an additional factor of years of study was added. The results have implications for how context influences grammatical acceptability and how L2 users perceive less common grammatical constructions in relation to native speaker perceptions.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Second Language Acquisition & Teaching