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When Chinese language learners reach intermediate level, approximately in the second year of their Chinese study, they start to encounter near-synonyms, words that have the same translations in English, and characters that look alike. These words are often called 易混淆词 yi hunxiao ci “easily confusable words” by Chinese scholars. This lexical acquisition study researches a group of near synonyms about Chinese verbs of ‘change’, which either express a stative change (where an argument which expresses the result of the change is required) or causative change (where an argument which expresses the instigator or cause of the change is required). The study selected seven typical Chinese verbs, which are approximately equivalent to the words ‘to change’ and ‘to become’ in English.
This study explores how the seven verbs of ‘change’ are different from each other through both literature review and an analysis of native speakers’ corpus. Among Chinese verbs of ‘change’, the most difficult pairs are 变成 biancheng and 成为 chengwei, 改 gai, 变 bian and 改变 gaibian, because of their morphological, semantic and syntactic similarities. 变成 biancheng and 成为 chengwei are very close in meaning, however, 成为 chengwei indicates a change that has gone through a development, while 变成 biancheng emphasizes on the comparison of status before and after the action. 成为 chengwei is used mainly to describe getting a new job or obtaining a special status, while 变成 biancheng is mostly to describe physical changes. As for 改 gai and 变 bian, under the sense of ‘to change’, 变 bian is more often used as an intransitive verb to express a stative change, 改 gai in contrast, is frequently used to express a causative change. As for collocations, 改 gai, 变 bian and 改变 gaibian collocate with very different nouns and other syntactic structures.
This acquisition study then adopts an interlanguage analysis and experiment test as means to determine the effect that these semantic differences have on language learners. Heritage language learners have demonstrated advantages since the first year. Participants in their fourth year of Chinese classes have demonstrated their full knowledges on the verbs’ pronunciation and meaning, including secondary meaning of polysemy, which are comparable to Chinese speakers. Nevertheless, foreign language learners after four years of learning have not yet achieved native level in term of using the verbs correctly in sentences. The most difficult lexical pairs are 改 gai and 变 bian; 变成 biancheng and 成为 chengwei. Even though heritage and foreign language learners have different learning patterns, it is found that as students proceed in studying Chinese, their performance on Chinese verbs of ‘change’ improves in U-shape patterns. With in-depth comparison and analysis, it is determined that the causes of difficulties may come from English and Chinese differences, complexities of Chinese verbs of change, transfer of training.
Qian, Baoqing, "Studies on L2 Acquisition of Chinese Verbs of 'Change' by English Speakers" (2018). Masters Theses. 700.