The acquisition of semi-fixed idiomatic expressions in Chinese


Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review


Semi-fixed templates with open slots such as bu-A-bu-B (not-A-not-B), qian-A-wan-B (hundred-A-thousand-B), A-yan-B-yu (A-words-B-utterances) abound in Chinese idioms and are used productively in discourse (Ching 1964; Zhang 2002; Ji 2007). Yet the productivity of these schematic idioms is not unrestrictive since possible A, B morphemes that fill in the open slots must conform to certain structural and semantic constraints. How children come to learn the constraints on their productivity raises an interesting issue in language acquisition. This pilot study investigates young and adult native speakers' competence on the partial productivity of Chinese schematic idioms in terms of three related constructions-XAXB, XAYB and AXBY (in which X and Y are the fixed templates), and explores the factors that influence their acceptability judgments. Specifically, this study tested the effect of input frequency, structural complexity, internal semantic relation and chunk effect of open morphemes with 4th graders and adults in a graded Grammaticality Judgment task. Results showed even 4th graders began to form abstract generalizations on the legitimate words that can enter the open slots of schematic expressions. The results provided empirical support for the psychological reality of constructional claims for idiomatic expressions under Chinese context.
中文成語裡有很多半固定的格式,如不-A-不-B,千-A-萬-B,A-言-B-語,等等,在使用中會呈現出一定的生成性(Ching 1964;Ji 2007;張2002)。但這些格式的生成性是有限制的:空格上的A,B詞語選擇必須符合句法和語義等方面的要求。學習者通常並不對所有半固定的成語逐一記憶,一個有趣的問題是兒童又是如何習得這些限制規則的呢?本研究通過一項分級的可接受度判斷,調查了兒童和成人對三種不同成語構式的多產性及其限制的習得狀況,和影響他們判斷的因素:頻率,結構複雜度,內部語義關係和A,B詞素是否構成複合詞。結果顯示9歲左右的孩子已對何種的A,B詞素進入構式有了抽象的規則概括。此研究對中文成語的構式理解提供了心理真實性的實證依據。 Copyright © 2015 世界華語文教育學會.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-30
JournalJournal of Chinese Language Teaching
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015


Liu, L., & Cheung, H. T. (2015). The acquisition of semi-fixed idiomatic expressions in Chinese. Journal of Chinese Language Teaching, 12(3), 1-30.


  • Semi-fixed expressions
  • Schematic idioms
  • Partial productivity
  • 半固定成語
  • 構式
  • 生成性
  • Alt. title: 中文半固定式成語的習得研究


Dive into the research topics of 'The acquisition of semi-fixed idiomatic expressions in Chinese'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.