The Delineation of ‘Throw’ Verbs in Mandarin Chinese: Behavioural and Perceptual Approaches

Year
2016
Volume 17
Issue 1
Pages
95-131
Authors
Helena Hong Gao, Haoshu Wang, & Elena Nicoladis
Abstract
Within a semantic domain, terms that can be used in a similar way to describe a similar event are members of the same class of words, or near-synonyms. They are common in a language but difficult to distinguish from one and another. Physical action verbs such as ‘throw’ verbs are a typical example of this. In this study we attempted to distinguish six Chinese ‘throw’ verbs (rēng, diū, pāo, tóu, shuāi, shuǎi) from each other within the framework of cognitive semantics. Two experiments were conducted with two groups of native Chinese speakers (60 participants in total) to examine their behavioural and perceptual responses to the throwing actions that can be typically described by each of the six verbs. The results show that the verbs the participants enacted revealed differences in terms of dimensional features. Further, visual input about the verb enacted, successfully elicited the participants’ responses corresponding to the semantics of each individual verb. Typical actions and differences between five dimensions were used as discriminative features of the verbs. The validity of action performance as a paradigm for verb meaning specification was verified. 

Keywords: cognitive semantics, mental representation, near-synonym, perception, throw verbs