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On the Idiosyncrasies of the Mandarin Chinese Classifier System

by   Shijia Liu, et al.
Johns Hopkins University

While idiosyncrasies of the Chinese classifier system have been a richly studied topic among linguists (Adams and Conklin, 1973; Erbaugh, 1986; Lakoff, 1986), not much work has been done to quantify them with statistical methods. In this paper, we introduce an information-theoretic approach to measuring idiosyncrasy; we examine how much the uncertainty in Mandarin Chinese classifiers can be reduced by knowing semantic information about the nouns that the classifiers modify. Using the empirical distribution of classifiers from the parsed Chinese Gigaword corpus (Graff et al., 2005), we find that more information (in bits) about classifiers can be gleaned from knowing nouns than from knowing sets of noun synonyms or adjectives that modify the same noun. We investigate whether semantic classes of nouns and adjectives differ in how much they reduce uncertainty in classifier choice, and find that it is not fully idiosyncratic; while there are no obvious trends for the majority of semantic classes, shape nouns greatly reduce uncertainty in classifier choice.


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