Item Details

Lexical coinages in Mandarin Chinese and the problem of classification

Issue: Vol 9 No. 2 (2013)

Journal: Linguistics and the Human Sciences

Subject Areas: Writing and Composition Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/lhs.v9i2.141


Many linguists have tried to classify Chinese lexical coinages before. However, previous researchers have often focussed only on a small subset of all such neologisms. Even where an attempt has been made to present an overview of lexical change in Mandarin Chinese, the resulting system of categorisation has frequently been incomplete, internally inconsistent or poorly structured. This has frustrated the efforts of linguists to draw any meaningful comparisons between lexical change in Mandarin Chinese and other languages. This paper represents a fresh attempt to present an overarching classification of the assortment of new expressions that have been coined in written and spoken Mandarin over the past three decades. Careful crosslinguistic comparison reveals that native speakers of English and Mandarin employ a similar number of distinct strategies to coin new words; however, owing to various phonological, morphological, orthographic and other factors, the precise range of options available to speakers of the two languages is somewhat different. Overall, this paper presents a picture of Mandarin Chinese speakers as cultivating an innovative and playful approach to their use of language. An unexpected secondary finding is that there are indications that the Chinese writing system may be in the initial stages of tentative development from a morphologographic to a phonetic writing system.

Author: Angela Elizabeth Cook

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