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Title: Bridging contrastive study and language acquisition research A corpus-based study of passives in English and Chinese

Bridging contrastive study and language
acquisition research A corpus-based study of
passives in English and Chinese
  • Richard Xiao

Overview of the talk
  • Corpora for contrastive study
  • Passives in English and Chinese
  • Passive errors in Chinese learner English

Corpora for contrastive study
Parallel corpora? No
  • Two types of multilingual corpora
  • Parallel corpus source texts translations
  • Some misunderstandings, e.g.
  • translation equivalence is the best available
    basis of comparison (James 1980 178)
  • studies based on real translations are the only
    sound method for contrastive analysis (Santos
    1996 i)
  • But

Evidence of translationese (1)
  • An unrepresentative special variant
  • A third code (Frawley 1984 168)
  • Four core patterns of lexical use (Laviosa 1998)
  • a relatively low proportion of lexical words over
    function words
  • a relatively high proportion of high-frequency
    words over low-frequency words
  • a relatively great repetition of most frequent
  • less variety in most frequently used words

Evidence of translationese (2)
  • Beyond the lexical level -
  • Normalization, simplification (Baker 1993/1999)
  • Explicitation (Øverås 1998)
  • Sanitization (Kenny 1998)
  • Aspect markers twice as frequent in L1 Chinese
    (McEnery Xiao 2002)
  • Parallel corpora unreliable for contrastive study

Comparable corpora Yes
  • Comparable corpus same sampling techniques
    similar balance and representativeness
  • Well suited for contrastive study
  • Some E-C contrastive studies
  • Aspect marking (e.g. McEnery, Xiao Mo 2003)
  • Situation aspect (e.g. Xiao McEnery (2004a)
  • Collocation and semantic prosody (e.g. Xiao
    McEnery 2005)

Passives constructionsin English and Chinese
Corpus data
  • Two English corpora
  • Freiburg-LOB (FLOB)
  • BNCdemo
  • Two Chinese corpora
  • Lancaster Corpus of Mandarin Chinese (LCMC)
  • LDC CallHome Mandarin Transcripts

Text categories in FLOB and LCMC
Code Text category No. of samples Proportion
A Press reportage 44 8.8
B Press editorials 27 5.4
C Press reviews 17 3.4
D Religion 17 3.4
E Skills, trades and hobbies 38 7.6
F Popular lore 44 8.8
G Biographies and essays 77 15.4
H Miscellaneous (reports, official documents) 30 6
J Science (academic prose) 80 16
K General fiction 29 5.8
L Mystery/detective fiction 24 4.8
M Science fiction 6 1.2
N Adventure fiction 29 5.8
P Romantic fiction 29 5.8
R Humour 9 1.8
Total Total 500 100
Two major passives types in English
  • Be vs. get-passives
  • Dynamic vs. stative
  • e.g. Go and get/be changed! (BNCdemo)
  • Infinitival complements
  • e.g. they liked to be/get seen to go to church
  • Contrast in overall frequencies
  • 955 vs. 31 instances of be-passives vs.
    get-passives per 100K words
  • Writing vs. speech
  • Normalised frequencies (per 100K words)
  • Be-passives 854 (W) vs. 101 (S)
  • Get-passives 5 (W) vs. 26 (S)

Long vs. short forms by register
  • Long vs. short passives
  • Distribution in speech writing
  • Short passives more frequent in S than W
  • LL209.225 for 1 d.f., plt0.001

Long vs. short forms by passive type
  • Get-passives are more likely than be-passives to
    occur in short forms
  • LL76.015 for 1 d.f., plt0.001
  • Agents in get-passives Impersonal, e.g.
  • got caught by the police
  • Inanimate, e.g.
  • got knocked down by a car
  • Personal agents informationally dense,
    semantically indispensable, e.g.
  • The bleeding fat girl, he got asked out by her.

Adverbials in English passives
  • Passives with no adverbial are much more common
    than those with an adverbial true for both be-
    and get-passives
  • Adverbials are more frequent in be- passives than
  • 17.7 of be-passives 7 of get-passives
  • Less diversified in get-passives
  • Typically have an intensifying or focusing role
    (Carter McCarthy 1999 53)
  • Proportions of be-passives with an adverbial are
    similar in S W
  • 19.5 (S) vs. 17.3 (W)
  • BUT the proportion of get-passives with an
    adverbial is much greater in W than S
  • 15.2 (W) vs. 6.6 (S)

Pragmatic meanings
Passive type Negative Positive Neutral
Be-passive 15 4.7 80.3
Get-passive 37.7 3.4 58.9
Collocation analysis
  • Observation of pragmatic meanings of get-passives
    is supported by collocation analysis
  • z scoregt3.0, frequencygt3, L0-R1
  • Collocates of get-passives are more likely to
    show a negative pragmatic meaning
  • Negative get-passives 46.5 in BNCdemo (one
    collocate in FLOB married)
  • Negative be-passives 27 in BNCdemo and 8 in
  • Get-passives NOT necessarily more frequently
    negative in S
  • Proportions of negative cases 45.8 (W) vs.
    37.3 (S)
  • Exceptionally high co-occurrence frequency of a
    few neutral collocates of get-passives in S
    (married , paid , dressed , changed)

Collocation vs. style
  • Get-passives are more informal in style
  • More restricted in collocation, more likely to
    refer to daily activities and be used in informal
  • GET - dressed, changed, weighed, fed (i.e. eat),
    washed, cleaned
  • GET - pricked, hooked, mixed (up), carried
    (away), muddled (up), sacked, kicked (out),
    stuffed, thrown (out), chucked, pissed, nicked
  • Rarely found among the top 100 collocates of

Style vs. distribution
  • Stylistic difference gt distribution
  • Be-passives over 8 times as frequent in FLOB
    (A-R) as in BNCdemo (S)
  • Of written genres, more common in informative
    texts (A-J) than imaginative writing (K-R)
  • Exceptionally frequent in H J (cf. Biber 1988)
  • Get-passives typically occur in speech and
    colloquial, informal genres
  • Over 5 times as frequent in speech as in writing
  • Of written genres, exceptionally frequent in E
    (leisure) R.

Syntactic functions
  • Finite vs. non-finite
  • Finite predicate
  • Non-finite adjectival, adverbial, complement,
    object, subject
  • Typically used as predicates
  • 97 of be-passives and 96 of get-passives
  • Sometimes found in object and complement
  • Rarely used as subjects
  • Distribution of get-passives is more balanced
    across syntactic functions

Passives in Chinese Notional, syntactic vs.
  • Marked (47) vs. unmarked (53) passives
  • Unmarked passives notional or pseudo-passives
  • Topic sentences (topic comment)
  • e.g. fan (meal) ltbei (PSV)gt zuo-hao (do-ready)
    le (PERF) The dinner is cooked (ready) (LCMC)
  • Syntactic vs. lexical passives
  • Passivised verbs do not inflect morphologically
  • Syntactic passive markers
  • Bei the most frequent, universal passive
  • Gei, jiao, rang not fully grammaticalised,
    typically in colloquial genres dialects
  • Weisuo archaic, only in formal written genres
  • Lexical passives ai, shou(dao), zao(dao)
  • Inherently passive

Long vs. short passives
  • Bei and gei in both long (40, 43) and short
    (60, 57) passives
  • Wei, jiao and rang only in long passives
  • Shou and zao more frequent in short (68, 63)
    than long (32, 37) passives
  • Ai almost exclusively in short passives (97)
  • Long passives in speech and colloquial genres
    short passives typically in written genres such
    as J, H and G

Agent NPs in syntactic vs. lexical passives
  • Can be systematically interpreted as attributive
    modifiers of (nominalised) verbs in lexical
    passives, but cannot in syntactic passives, cf.
  • A) danshi (but) zhe (this) yi (one) jianyi
    (proposal) zaodao (suffer) Xide (West Germany)
    zongli (prime minister) ltde (PRT)gt jujue
    (reject/rejection) But this proposal was
    rejected by the prime minister of West Germany
  • B) wo-men (we) na-ge (that-CL) che (car), bei
    (PSV) Xinhuan (Xinhuan) ltde (PRT)gt nong-huai
    (ruin) le (PERF) Our car was ruined by Xinhuan

Syntactic functions
  • Most frequent in the predicate position
  • 76 of syntactic passives (74 of bei) 75 of
    lexical passives
  • Non-predicate uses
  • Attributive modifier second most important
    syntactic function (14)
  • Uncommon as subjects or complements

Interaction with aspect
  • Interacting with aspect closely (Xiao and McEnery
  • Syntactic passives convey an aspectual meaning of
  • Bare passives account for the largest proportions
    of syntactic (40) and lexical (78) passives
  • BUT perfective -le is not uncommon in both
    syntactic (17) and lexical (11) passives
  • RVCs and resultative de-structure are more common
    in syntactic passives bare forms are more
    frequent in lexical passives
  • Passivised verbs in bare forms are uncommon in
    syntactic passives, especially when they function
    as predicates

Pragmatic meanings
  • Typically express a negative pragmatic meaning
  • usually of unfavourable meanings (Chao 1968
  • Universal passive marker bei derived from its
    main verb usage, meaning suffer (Wang 1957)
  • Under the influence of Western languages, Chinese
    passives are no longer restricted to verbs with
    an inflictive meaning
  • Proportions of negative pragmatic meaning
  • Syntactic passives gei (68), rang (67), bei
    (52), jiao (50), wei (19)
  • Lexical passives ai (100), zao (100), shou
  • Collocates of bei-passives
  • 51 negative, 39 neutral, 10 positive

Distribution across genres
  • 11 times as frequent in writing as in speech
  • Most common in religious writing (D) and mystery/
    detective stories (L)
  • Mystery/detective stories are often concerned
    with victims who suffer from various kinds of
    mishaps or what criminals do to them
  • In religions, human beings are passive animals
    whose fate is controlled by some kind of
    supernatural force
  • Least frequent in news editorials (C) and
    official documents (H)
  • Universal passive marker bei
  • Contrast in proportions between long vs. short
    passives typically less marked in 5 types of
    fiction (K-P), humour (R) and speech (S)
  • Predominantly negative in speech (S) more often
    than not negative in news editorials (C),
    mystery/detective stories (L), and adventure
    stories (N) but rarely negative in official
    documents (H) and academic prose (J)

Contrast Overall frequencies
  • Passive constructions are significantly more
    common in English than in Chinese (nearly 10
    times as frequent)
  • English (be-)passives occur in both dynamic and
    stative situations Chinese passives can only
    occur in dynamic events
  • Chinese passives typically have a negative
    pragmatic meaning English passives (esp.
    be-passives) do not
  • Unmarked notional passives are more common in
  • Chinese topic-oriented English subject-oriented
  • English tends to over-use passives, esp. in
    formal writing (Quirk 1968 Baker 1985) Chinese
    tends to avoid syntactic passives wherever
  • Chinese uses topic sentences instead

Contrast Long vs. short passives
  • The agent NP in the long passive follows the
    passivised verb in English but precedes it in
  • Short passives are predominant in English long
    passives are not uncommon in Chinese
  • Passives are used in English to avoid mentioning
    the agent
  • The agent must normally be spelt out in Chinese
  • This constraint has become more relaxed nowadays
  • When it is difficult to spell out the agent
  • Passives are used in English
  • In Chinese, a vague expression such as ren/youren
    someone or renmen people is used instead of
    using passives

Contrast Pragmatic meanings
  • Chinese passives are more frequently used with a
    negative pragmatic meaning than English passives
  • Chinese passives were used at early stages
    primarily for unpleasant or undesirable events
    the semantic constraint on the use of passives
    has become more relaxed, especially in writing
  • Rank order of meaning categories
  • English neutral gt negative gt positive
  • Chinese negative gt neutral gt positive
  • In this respect, the get-passive is more akin to
    Chinese passives than the unmarked be-passive
    more stylistically oriented

Contrast Syntactic functions
  • Passives are most frequently used in the
    predicate position in English and Chinese
  • Proportion of passives used as predicates in
    English (over 95) is much greater than that in
    Chinese (76 on average)
  • More frequent in the object than subject position
    in both languages
  • More frequent as attributive modifiers in
    Chinese more frequent as complements in English
  • Passives in Chinese (esp. bei-passives) are more
    balanced across syntactic functions than English
  • Chinese passives in the predicate position
    typically interact with aspect but this
    interaction is not obvious in English

Contrast Distribution
  • Unmarked English (be-)passives more frequent in
    informative (A-J) than imaginative writing (K-R)
    get-passives more common in speech and informal
    written genres
  • H and J show very high proportions of passives in
    English, but they have the lowest proportions of
    passives in Chinese
  • Unmarked English passives function to mark
    objectivity and a formal style but Chinese
    passives do not have this function
  • In Chinese, wei typically occurs in formal
    written genres jiao, rang and gei are used in
    colloquial genres
  • Mystery/detective stories (L) and religious
    writing (D) show exceptionally high proportions
    of passives in Chinese
  • Different distributions are associated with
    different functions
  • English (be-)passives an impersonal, objective
    and formal style
  • Chinese passives inflictive voice

Contrast Typological differences
  • Klaimans (1991 23) 3-way classification of
    grammatical voices
  • Basic (unmarked) voice active/middle voice
  • Derived/non-basic (marked) voice passivisation
  • Pragmatic voice involving assignment to some
    sentential arguments of some special pragmatic
    status or salience (Klaiman 1991 24)
  • English passive derived voice
  • Chinese passive pragmatic voice

Passive errors in Chinese Learner English
  • CLEC the Chinese Learner English Corpus
  • One million words
  • Essays
  • Five proficiency levels
  • LOCNESS the Louvain Corpus of Native English
  • 324,304 words
  • Essays
  • British A-Level children and British/American
    university students

Under-use of passives
Corpus Words Frequency Per 100K words LL score p value
CLEC 1,070,602 9,711 907 LL1235.6 1.d.f. plt0.001
LOCNESS 324,304 5,465 1,685 LL1235.6 1.d.f. plt0.001
Long vs. short passives
  • Long passives are slightly more frequent in
    Chinese learner English
  • Long passives in CLEC
  • 9.14 888 out of 9,711
  • Long passives in LOCNESS
  • 8.44 461 out of 5,465
  • Not statistically significant
  • LL2.184, 1 d.f., p0.139

Pragmatic meanings
  • Passives are more frequently negative in Chinese
    learner English
  • CLEC
  • Negative 25.7
  • Positive 5.9
  • Neutral 68.4
  • Negative 16.8
  • Positive 4.4
  • Neutral 78.8
  • LL7.4, 2 d.f., p0.025

Passive errors vs. learner levels
  • Learners at higher levels generally make fewer
    passive errors
  • Four major types of passive errors
  • Under-use is the most important error type
  • Learning curve is not a straight line, especially
    for difficult items

Error types vs. learner levels
  • Error types are associated with learner levels
  • LL51.774, 12.d.f., plt0.001
  • Similar learner groups make similar types of
  • ST2 gtgt ST3 statistically significant (LL27.303,
    3 d.f., plt0.001)
  • ST3 gtgt ST4 not significant (LL6.955, 3 d.f.,
  • ST4 gtgt ST5 statistically significant (LL18.563,
    3 d.f., plt0.001)
  • ST5 gtgt ST6 not significant (LL6.987, 3 d.f.,
  • ST2 ST3/ST4 ST5/ST6
  • (High (Junior/Senior
  • school non-English
    English major
  • students) major students)

Under-use L1 transfer
  • Borne out of the contrastive analysis
  • Confirmed by the CLEC-LOCNESS comparison
  • Result of L1 transfer
  • Typically occur with verbs whose Chinese
    equivalents are not normally used in passives,
  • A birthday party will hold in Lilys house. (ST2)
  • or our efforts will waste. (ST4)
  • The woman in white called Anne Catherick. (ST5)
  • Also under the influence of Chinese topic
  • The supper had done. (ST2)

Over-use three major types
  • Intransitive verbs used in passives, e.g.
  • A very unhappy thing was happened in this week.
  • Their friendships are not died off with the
    passing of time (ST4)
  • I was graduated from Zhongshan University (ST5)
  • Misuse of ergative verbs, e.g.
  • the science ltsic. secincegt is developed quickly
  • infant mortality was declined (ST4)
  • Passive training effects, e.g.
  • many machines ltsic. machinegt and appliances
    ltsic. appliancegt are used electricity as power
  • Because they have been mastered everything of
    this job (ST4)

Misformation L1 interference
  • Result of L1 interference
  • Related to morphological inflections
  • Passivised verbs do not inflect in L1 Chinese
  • Tend to use uninflected verbs or misspelt past
    participles in passives, e.g.
  • The door is wrap with two coats of iron (ST5)
  • His relatives can not stop him, because his
    choice is protect by the laws. (ST6)
  • Since the Peoples Republic of China ltsic. chinagt
    was found on October 1, 1949 (ST2)
  • I was moving at that time, but I didn't cry. (ST2)

Auxiliary omission L1 interference
  • Result of L1 interference
  • Unmarked notional passives are abundant in
  • Tend to omit or misuse auxiliaries in passives,
  • and we will not satisfied with what we have
    done. (ST4)
  • In China, since the new China established,
    peoples life has gotten ltsic. gotengt better and
    better. (ST3)
  • I am not a smoker, but why do we forced to be a
    second-hand smoker? (ST5)

  • While passive constructions express a basic
    passive meaning in both English and Chinese, they
    also show a range of differences which are
    associated with their different functions in the
    two languages
  • Most passive-related errors made by Chinese
    learners of English can be accounted for from a
    contrastive perspective
  • A combination of contrastive study and learner
    corpus analysis can bring insights into language
    acquisition research

Thank you!
References (1)
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References (3)
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