A Cognitive Approach to Investigating Two-Plus-Two Constructions in Chinese Four-Character Idioms

Yang, Haoran and Tantucci, Vittorio (2023) A Cognitive Approach to Investigating Two-Plus-Two Constructions in Chinese Four-Character Idioms. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

[thumbnail of 2023haoranyangphd]
Text (2023haoranyangphd)
2023haoranyangphd.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial.

Download (2MB)


Chinese idioms comprise word strings of various lengths, ranging from three to eight characters (Luo, 2015). Four-character idioms (FCIs) constitute the largest group among all Chinese idioms. Different syntactic patterns have been identified among FCIs, namely, 1+1+1+1, 1+3, and 2+2, whereby each digit stands for the number of characters that constitute a syntactic unit. Among these, the 2+2 construction (henceforth, AABB) is found to be most widely distributed (Wang et al. 2013). Two types of 2+2 FCIs have been identified in the present study: (a) interchangeable 2+2 FCIs whose two units can replace each other (i.e., AABB or BBAA) and (b) non-interchangeable 2+2 FCIs whose two units cannot substitute each other (i.e., only AABB but not BBAA). For instance, 黑白混淆 (hēi-bái-hùn-xiáo: black-white-mix-confuse, “to garble things up like mixing black and white colours together”) can be re-constructed as 混淆黑白 (hùn-xiáo-hēi-bái, mix-confuse-black-white), but 做贼心虚 (zuò-zéi-xīn-xū, become-thief-heart-empty, “to feel guilty like a thief having stolen something”) cannot be re-constructed as 心虚做贼 (xīn-xū-zuò-zéi, heart-empty-become-thief). Prior studies (Chen 2001; Su 2002; Tao 2002; Zuo 2006; Nall 2008) have identified combinatory relationships in FCIs from a Construction Grammar perspective (Goldberg 1995, 2006). However, none has provided an in-depth diachronic account of the differences between interchangeable and non-interchangeable 2+2 FCIs in terms of internal constituency and propositional act functions (Croft, 2001). Similarly, structural mismatches between AABB and BBAA constructions in interchangeable FCIs have also not been adequately addressed in the literature. Finally, not much attention has been given to the partly schematic negative 2+2 construction [不 (bù, not) A 不 (bù, not) B] in terms of its functions. This thesis contains 8 chapters. Chapter 1 is the introduction which explains the aims and scope of this study. Chapter 2 is the literature review providing a description of idioms and idiomaticity. In particular, it deals with the basic concepts of Chinese idioms’ classification and the research motivation for the Chinese FCIs. Chapter 3 is the literature review about the Construction Grammar and explains how construction grammar can be applied to Chinese FCI research. Chapter 4 is devoted to data collection and methodology. Chapter 5 makes a comparison between interchangeable and non-interchangeable 2+2 FCIs, while Chapter 6 is centred on AABB and BBAA patterns of interchangeable FCIs. Chapter 7 gives an account of the 2+2 [bù A bù B] construction in terms of internal constituency, propositional act function, and semantic prosody. Finally, chapter 8 is for the findings and conclusion. The present thesis argues that the internal constituency of Chinese 2+2 FCIs may affect their propositional act functions (cf. Croft 2001) in context and further lead a diachronic differentiation of interchangeable idioms vs non-interchangeable idioms. The former will appear to follow a directional path of constructional change, while the latter a non-directional one. This research also shows that three different mechanisms (attraction, differentiation, and substitution) may dictate the diachronic change between AABB and BBAA. This work aims to make a valuable contribution to the study of FCI constructions as it sets to explain (a) how interchangeable and non-interchangeable idioms evolve over time and (b) how the 2+2 [bù A bù B] construction shows a different behaviour than the general 2+2 constructions in terms of internal constituency, propositional act functions, and semantic prosody. Finally, the present analysis sheds new theoretical light not only on the linguistic representation of Chinese FCIs based on constructional schematicity, but also on the diachronic relationship between idiomaticity and creativity. Corpus data were obtained from Xinhua Dictionary of Idioms (Xu, 2002), the BLCU Corpus Center (BCC), zhTenTen Corpus and the Centre for Chinese Linguistics, PKU (CCL) and data manipulation and analysis of FCIs was implemented with Rstudio.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:
Research Output Funding/no_not_funded
?? no - not funded ??
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
16 Aug 2023 08:45
Last Modified:
29 Jun 2024 01:13