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   2012, Vol. 44 Issue (1) : 76-86     DOI:
The Effects of Context and Word Morphology on Interpreting Unknown Words by Learners of Chinese as A Second Language
(1 Center for Studies of Chinese as a Second Language, Beijing Language and Culture University, Beijing 100083, China)
(2 School of Chinese Language and Literature, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing 100089, China)
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Abstract  When learning Chinese, vocabulary is one of the main factors affecting foreign learners’ reading ability. Most learners are able to interpret unknown words through useful clues, which shed light on vocabulary learning and acquisition. To interpret unknown words, learners mainly rely on contextual clues and word morphology clues. However, very little research has been conducted on the roles of contextual and word morphology clues in the process of interpreting unknown compound words of different combinations by learners of Chinese as a second language, especially those with different native languages. Therefore, the present research intends to address the impacts of the following factors on interpreting unknown words by learners of Chinese as a second language, i.e. contextual and word morphology clues, the influence of morpheme combinations and learners’ language backgrounds.
Thirty-six intermediate-level learners of Chinese (18 Euro-American students and 18 Japanese students) were invited to participate in the test. Thirty-six semitransparent compound words were chosen as target words, which were unacquainted to the participants although the individual words comprising the compound words were familiar to them. The participants were asked to interpret the meaning of compound words under three different conditions: (1) the words-only condition, (2) the context-only condition with target words omitted, (3) words plus context clues condition, in which target words were presented within specified sentences. The factorial design of 2 native languages (western languages and Japanese) × 2 structural rules of the target compound words (modifier-head constructions and verb-object constructions) × 3 aforementioned conditions was adopted. The results of the test were encoded as the data for statistical and analytical purposes.
The results show that both the contextual clues and the word morphology clues provide a certain amount of information in the process of word meaning interpreting and the integration of context and word morphology clues results in better interpreting. Furthermore, the roles of context and word morphology in interpreting unknown words have quantitative and qualitative differences. Contexts provide more syntactic information than word morphology clues, whereas word morphology clues provide more semantic information. The morpheme combinations can affect the interpreting. Thirdly, it is found that much better interpreting was achieved for the meaning of modifier-head constructions rather than verb-object constructions; Word morphology clues provide more information for modifier-head constructions than verb-object constructions. Two possible reasons may lie in the larger number of modifier-head constructions than verb-object constructions and the difference in the morpheme activated styles between the two types of compound words in Chinese. Finally, the results show that Japanese learners were better in interpreting unknown compound words than western learners. This may suggest an effect of L1 and L2 distance on interpreting L2 unknown compound words.
Keywords context      word morphology      interpreting unknown words      Chinese as a second language      Euro- American learners      Japanese learners     
Corresponding Authors: JIANG Xin;FANG Yan-Xia   
Issue Date: 28 January 2012
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JIANG Xin,FANG Yan-Xia. The Effects of Context and Word Morphology on Interpreting Unknown Words by Learners of Chinese as A Second Language[J]. ,2012, 44(1): 76-86.
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