Quadrasyllabic Idiomatic Expressions (QIE’s) in Chinese and neighboring Languages: An Investigation into Linguistic and Cultural History

Project: Research project

Project Details


The use of idiomatic language and figurative speech is common in daily communication, and its study is important for understanding language, rhetorics, literacy and cultural history. This project takes an uncommon approach to explore two major areas of interest below by means of the common but relatively unique and inadequately studied Chinese Quadrasyllabic Idiomatic Expressions (QIE’s), e.g. 不三不四 [not-3-not-4: improper, inappropriate], similar to English “neither fish nor fowl” but with much more negative connotations, or 四面楚歌 [4-side-‘Chu’-chant: surrounded by enemies]. These QIE's have: (a) 4 syllables with customary parallel linguistic patterns; (b) richer semantic and cultural content than superficial word meanings; and draw on (c) metalinguistic skills for differentiation between literal vs. figurative meanings, positive vs. negative connotations, and logical deduction. QIE’s are also pervasive among Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese (i.e. QIE-prone languages), but NOT among other neighboring languages such as Uyghur, Mongolian or Manchu (i.e. QIE-resistant languages). To understand such drastically divergent developments, we explore the differential sociolinguistic status and penetration of QIE-like structures or resistance to them in these two kinds of languages. Furthermore, the plentiful QIE's among the QIE-prone pre-literate non-Sinitic languages of Southwestern China such as Zhuang also invite comparison with the above two kinds of languages, and raise new questions on whether they might reflect deeper affinity than contact-induced areal linguistic features when compared with neighboring Cantonese.

Funding Source: RGC - General Research Fund (GRF)
Effective start/end date01/10/1230/09/14


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