A Study of Language Typology and Comparative Semantics: Human Locomotion Verbs in English and Chinese

| October 9, 2011
A Study of Language Typology and Comparative Semantics: Human Locomotion Verbs in English and Chinese

Keywords: Human locomotion verbs, Language Typology, Comparative Semantics, Lexicalization pattern, Manner granularity

Wenjuan Yuan
Beihang University, Beijing, China

The present research sits itself within the intersection of Language Typology and Comparative Semantics, aiming to shed light on the comparison between English and Chinese typologically on one hand, and contribute to the study of Comparative Semantics in human locomotion verbs on the other.

Within the field of Language Typology, Slobin (2006) proposes that languages can be placed on a cline of manner salience in terms of the degree of manner profiling. It is the aim of this research to explore the relative position of English and Chinese on this cline. Simply put, it pertains to the question that which language pays more attention to manner specification. It is hoped that by investigating a typical type of verbs, i.e. human locomotion verbs, this research could throw light on the above question.

In the field of Comparative Semantics, this research conducts a semantic comparison of English and Chinese HLVs from both macro and micro perspectives. On a macro level, I examine the semantic components and lexicalization pattern of HLVs, and on a micro level, I pay particular attention to the manner granularity of HLVs.

Human locomotion refers to the self-propelled movement of human beings. Among verbs indicating human locomotion, this paper singles out the WALK, RUN, JUMP, CLIMB, and CRAWL-type verbs. It draws upon the theory of lexicalization and semantic componential analysis to compare the core meaning, semantic components and lexicalization patterns between English and Chinese HLVs, attaching special attention to the granularity of manner. Based on the previous research, this paper addresses the following questions: (1) what are the lexicalization patterns of English and Chinese HLVs? 2) What is the manner salience in English and Chinese HLVs? 3) How to explain the possible similarities and differences of lexicalization pattern and manner specification of HLVs in English and Chinese?

It is discovered that there are both semantic similarities and particulars between English and Chinese HLVs. In English, the degree of lexicalization of human locomotion is higher and its manner information is also more finer-grained than in Chinese. In short, this research reports a systematic and comprehensive comparison between English and Chinese HLVs in terms of meaning construction, particularly manner granularity. As far as HLVs concerned, English should be placed more towards the high- manner- salience end than Chinese on the cline of manner salience.

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Category: Thesis