Looking back over the academic year as it draws to a close, one of the highlights for us here at CASS was the one-day seminar we hosted in January on Perspectives on Chinese: Talks in Honour of Richard Xiao. This event celebrated the contributions to linguistics of CASS co-investigator Dr. Richard Zhonghua Xiao, on the occasion of both his retirement in October 2014 (and simultaneous taking-up of an honorary position with the University!), and the completion of the two funded research projects which Richard has led under the aegis of CASS.
The speakers included present and former collaborators with Richard – some (including myself) from here at Lancaster, others from around the world – as well as other eminent scholars working in the areas that Richard has made his own: Chinese corpus linguistics (especially, but not only, comparative work), and the allied area of the methodologies that Richard’s work has both utilised and promulgated.
In the first presentation, Prof. Hongyin Tao of UCLA took a classic observation of corpus-based studies – the existence, and frequent occurrence, of highly predictable strings or structures, pointed out a little-noticed aspect of these highly-predictable elements. They often involve lacunae, or null elements, where some key component of the meaning is simply left unstated and assumed. An example of this is the English expression under the influence, where “the influence of what?” is often implicit, but understood to be drugs/alcohol. It was pointed out that collocation patterns may identify the null elements, but that a simplistic application of collocation analysis may fail to yield useful results for expressions containing null elements. Finally, an extension of the analysis to yinxiang, the Chinese equivalent of influence, showed much the same tendencies – including, crucially, the importance of null elements – at work.
The following presentation came from Prof. Gu Yueguo of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Gu is well-known in the field of corpus linguistics for his many projects over the years to develop not just new corpora, but also new types of corpus resources – for example, his exciting development in recent years of novel types of ontology. His presentation at the seminar was very much in this tradition, arguing for a novel type of multimodal corpus for use in the study of child language acquisition.
At this point in proceedings, I was deeply honoured to give my own presentation. One of Richard’s recently-concluded projects involved the application of Douglas Biber’s method of Multidimensional Analysis to translational English as the “Third Code”. In my talk, I presented methodological work which, together with Xianyao Hu, I have recently undertaken to assist this kind of analysis by embedding tools for the MD approach in CQPweb. A shorter version of this talk was subsequently presented at the ICAME conference in Trier at the end of May.
Prof. Xu Hai of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies gave a presentation on the study of the study of Learner Chinese, an issue which was prominent among Richard’s concerns as director of the Lancaster University Confucius Institute. As noted above, Richard has led a project funded by the British Academy, looking at the acquisition of Mandarin Chinese as a foreign language; as a partner on that project, Xu’s presentation of a preliminary report on the Guangwai Lancaster Chinese Learner Corpus was timely indeed. This new learner corpus – already in excess of a million words in size, and consisting of a roughly 60-40 split between written and spoken materials – follows the tradition of the best learner corpora for English by sampling learners with many different national backgrounds, but also, interestingly, includes some longitudinal data. Once complete, the value of this resource for the study of L2 Chinese interlanguage will be incalculable.
The next presentation was another from colleagues of Richard here at Lancaster: Dr. Paul Rayson and Dr. Scott Piao gave a talk on the extension of the UCREL Semantic Analysis System (USAS) to Chinese. This has been accomplished by means of mapping the vast semantic lexicon originally created for English across to Chinese, initially by automatic matching, and secondarily by manual editing. Scott and Paul, with other colleagues including CASS’s Carmen Dayrell, went on to present this work – along with work on other languages – at the prestigious NAACL HLT 2015 conference, in whose proceedings a write-up has been published.
Prof. Jiajin Xu (Beijing Foreign Studies University) then made a presentation on corpus construction for Chinese. This area has, of, course, been a major locus of activity by Richard over the years: his Lancaster Corpus of Mandarin Chinese (LCMC), a Mandarin match for the Brown corpus family, is one of the best openly-available linguistic resources for that language, and his ZJU Corpus of Translational Chinese (ZCTC) was a key contribution of his research on translation in Chinese . Xu’s talk presented a range of current work building on that foundation, especially the ToRCH (“Texts of Recent Chinese”) family of corpora – a planned Brown-family-style diachronic sequence of snapshot corpora in Chinese from BFSU, starting with the ToRCH2009 edition. Xu rounded out the talk with some case studies of applications for ToRCH, looking first at recent lexical change in Chinese by comparing ToRCH2009 and LCMC, and then at features of translated language in Chinese by comparing ToRCH2009 and ZCTC.
The last presentation of the day was from Dr. Vittorio Tantucci, who has recently completed his PhD at the department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster, and who specialises in a number of issues in cognitive linguistic analysis including intersubjectivity and evidentiality. His talk addressed specifically the Mandarin evidential marker 过 guo, and the path it took from a verb meaning ‘to get through, to pass by’ to becoming a verbal grammatical element. He argued that this exemplified a path for an evidential marker to originate from a traversative structure – a phenomenon not noted on the literature on this kind of grammaticalisation, which focuses on two other paths of development, from verbal constructions conveying a result or a completion. Vittorio’s work is extremely valuable, not only in its own right but as a demonstration of the role that corpus-based analysis, and cross-linguistic evidence, has to play on linguistic theory. Given Richard’s own work on the grammar and semantics of aspect in Chinese, a celebration of Richard’s career would not have been complete without an illustration of how this trend in current linguistics continues to develop.
All in all, the event was a magnificent tribute to Richard and his highly productive research career, and a potent reminder of how diverse his contributions to the field have actually been, and of their far-reaching impact among practitioners of Chinese corpus linguistics. The large and lively audience certainly seemed to agree with our assessment!
Our deep thanks go out to all the invited speakers, especially those who travelled long distances to attend – our speaker roster stretched from California in the west, to China in the east.