Xiao, R. Z. (2001) A corpus-based study of interaction between Chinese perfective -le and situation types. In: Corpus Linguistics 2001, 2001-03-302001-04-02.
Mandarin Chinese as an aspect language (Norman, 1988:163) has a rich inventory of aspect markers, including perfective -le1, -guo and imperfective -zhe, zai. Of these -le is the most studied marker because of its mysterious behaviors. For example, is it necessary to differentiate between the perfective -le and the COS le? Does -le indicate completion or termination? Are there any constraints on the interaction of -le with various situation types? All of these issues have aroused much controversy because different authors have invented different "acceptable" examples to support their arguments. Many of these examples, however, are rarely found in real language, though they are good for the purpose of argumentation. In this study, I will take another approach to address these issues and find evidence from authentic language data. An L1 Chinese corpus of 124,164 Hanzi (Chinese characters) was compiled for this purpose. The corpus was first automatically segmented and POS-tagged, and post-editing was conducted by hand for the tagging of the marker LE to ensure consistency and accuracy. Then all the clauses containing -le and le are extracted into two databases and the situation type of each instance is judged on the basis of human decision. A total of 1,208 occurrences of LE are found in our data, of which 1019 are the perfective -le and 166 are the COS le. In the other 23 instances where LE appears in the sentence-final position, the morpheme has the dual function indicating both perfectivity and change of state. Other functions of LE, e.g., as a full verb, as a modal particle and as a bounded morpheme, are also found in the corpus. Because they are irrelevant to our study here, these functions are not counted. The high frequency of LE and its rich functions justify this corpus as a good basis for the case study of this morpheme, albeit the small corpus size. This paper is concerned with the three questions raised at the beginning and is organised as follows: Section 1 discusses the one-morpheme approach vs. the two-morpheme approach; Section 2 considers the type of closure indicated by the perfective -le; Section 3 examines the interaction between the perfective -le and situation types and Section 4 concludes.
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