Analysis of Chinese as Second Language Learners’ Interpretations of Noun-Noun Compounds

  • Shuyi YangEmail author
Part of the Educational Linguistics book series (EDUL, volume 31)


This study examined Chinese as second language (L2) learners’ interpretations of noun-noun compounds of thematic and property relations within the theoretical framework of CARIN (Competition among Relations in Nominal) theory (Gagné CL. J Mem Lang 42:365–389, 2000) and Dual Process theory (Wisniewski EJ. Conceptual compound: possibilities and esthetics. In: Ward TB, Smith SM, Vaid J (eds) Creative thought: an investigation of conceptual structures and processes. APA Books, Washington, DC, pp 51–81, 1997). The CARIN theory postulates that conceptual compounding involves the selection of a thematic relation that describes how the modifier noun and the head noun are related. The Dual Process theory suggests that a compound is interpreted via one of two separate processes: thematic relation linking and property mapping. The thematic relation linking process involves building a thematic relation between the head noun concept and the modifier concept while the property mapping process involves mapping of specific properties from the modifier to the head noun.

A qualitative analysis was adopted in this study of 57 Chinese L2 learners. The results showed that both thematic relation linking and property mapping processes play roles in learners’ interpretations, lending support to the Dual Process theory. The interaction between the two processes was found that thematic relation linking serves as the major interference in the interpretation of property relation compounds while property mapping serves as the major interference in the interpretation of thematic relation compounds. The results also demonstrated that the interpretations of L2 learners and Chinese native speakers share more similarities than differences. Pedagogical recommendations were made that instructors should not limit their teaching to the explanations of the meanings of noun-noun compounds. Instead, they should also emphasize the embedded semantic relations in the compounds and guide learners to use thematic relation linking and property mapping processes appropriately in different types of compounds to reach reasonable interpretations.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of World Languages, Literatures & Cultures, College of Liberal Arts & SciencesUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA

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