ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

›› 2009, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (08): 659-675.

    Next Articles

The Production Mechanism of Chinese Idioms

ZHANG Ji-Jia;SHI Yan-Cai   

  1. Center for Psychological Application, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
  • Received:2008-10-05 Revised:1900-01-01 Published:2009-08-30 Online:2009-08-30
  • Contact: ZHANG Ji-Jia

Abstract: Idioms are one kind of the fixed expressions. The literal meanings of these phrases do not suggest their figu-rative meanings. Research on idioms has served scholars to form two completely opposite viewpoints about the comprehensional mechanism of idioms: noncompositional view and compositional view. On the noncompositional view, idioms have been lexicalized, and considered as long “words”. Therefore, comprehending idioms, in this point of view, is a process of retrieval. By contrast, the compositional view suggests that the metaphoric meanings of idioms can be constructed in comprehension. The literal meaning of compositions within a word has a great in-fluence on the process of comprehension of idioms. Given the limitation of the two views, a number of researchers have proposed a mixed model. That is, access representation is considered as a process in terms of both single words and morphemes within an idiom, which probably become the representational and accessional units when each unit interacts on one another during the comprehension.
This study made further research on lexcical access during the production of idiomatic phrases by three experiments. Experiment 1 explored the activations of the representations of idioms, single words, and mor-phemes. Main effects of types of priming (i.e., related priming v.s. unrelated priming) were found in all experi-mental conditions; in contrast, main effects of the types of phrases (i.e., idioms v.s. regular phrases) were found only when the representations of idioms and single words were activated. Such results mainly supported the mixed model that representations of idioms and single words can be both activated during comprehension.
Experiment 2 investigated the influences from the activation of single words and the morphemes during producing Chinese idioms. Participants were instructed to fulfill the idioms with either single words or mor-phemes. The morphemes were more likely activated during such a process. Results indicated the “morpheme to idiom” activation in Chinese idioms production, but the “single word to idiom” activation was not found in the process.
Experiment 3 probed into the activation of compositional literal meanings in the production of Chinese idiomatic phrases and discussed the “idiom to morpheme” activation in Chinese idioms production. According to the results of Experiment 2 and 3, the following conclusions can be made: both “morpheme to idiom” and “id-iom to morpheme” activations exist in Chinese idioms production; in addition, the “idiom to morpheme” activa-tion is more easy than “morpheme to idiom” in such a process.
In short: (1) the representations of idioms are hybrid, idioms can be either unitary in that they require their own lexical entry, or compositional in that they make use of simple lemmas in the mental lexicon; (2) the repre-sentation of morphemes is the linking bridge between the representation of idioms and the representation of words; (3) decomposability of idioms has an influence on the productive process of idioms. On the basis of ex-perimental discoveries about Chinese idioms, a new model of the Chinese idiom production was proposed.

Key words: idiom, representation, decomposability