Interactions among patterns in Chinese character form
James Myers
May 2023

In our previous work, we argued that Chinese character form is governed by a formal lexical grammar similar to the morphology and phonology of spoken and signed languages. Character morphology operates on potentially interpretable basic components (morphemes) in reduplication, semantic compounding, and semantic radical affixation. Character phonology (silent, as in sign languages) consists of uninterpretable patterns in stroke and component form, including idiosyncratic allomorphy, reduplicative identity, axis assimilation, stroke diagonalization, prominence at the bottom and right, and stroke curving at the left; all of these patterns are influenced by character prosody (asymmetric binary strong-weak structure along the horizontal and vertical axes). In this paper we study for the first time precisely how character morphology and phonology interact with each other, adopting as our formal framework Stratal Optimality Theory (OT), which posits a stem stratum that is universally ordered before a word stratum, with each stratum an ordinary OT grammar. We test six predictions of this framework in Chinese characters, including that opaque interactions are only possible when phonological patterns are associated with different morphological strata, and find a surprisingly good fit. We also find that just as in analyses of spoken and signed lexicons, prosody plays a key role in explaining problematic cases, here including an otherwise puzzling variation in stroke order. Stratal OT allows us to make a much more precise description of character structure than has been possible in the traditional literature, including new evidence that writing shares deep cognitive mechanisms with speech and signing. [Note to downloaders of previous versions: the later versions merely fix some minor points and thank the folks who pointed them out - I foolishly uploaded to LingBuzz before soliciting comments from them]
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/007167
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: forthcoming festschrift
keywords: writing systems, chinese characters, stratal ot, morphology, phonology
previous versions: v3 [March 2023]
v2 [March 2023]
v1 [March 2023]
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