Native Chinese speakers' perception of Chinese idiom usage by foreign language learners

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This article investigates how a specific group of native Chinese speakers perceive the usage of four-character Chinese idioms, chengyu, as social markers employed by foreign learners of Chinese to build their second-culture persona. Specifically, this study examines listeners' perceptions via the Matched Guise Technique, utilizing 18 matched sets of audio recordings of chengyu usage in various social situations created by two non-native speakers and one native speaker of Chinese. Listener responses were collected in semi-structured interviews followed by a survey. The method of cognitive interviewing was adopted to collect quantitative data in both procedures to capture the complex cognitive processes underlying native perceptions and rationales in regard to the sociocultural contexts. Interview data and experimental results show that chengyu usage impacts social perceptions variably, inhabiting an indexical field of related meanings. Native speakers' perceptions of the social meanings of chengyu are context dependent. While speakers' familiarity with Chinese culture, language proficiency, and likability are centrally linked to the usage of chengyu, an array of other social meanings associated with it are also presented in the data. Interview data suggests that native Chinese speakers use a stereotypical foreign speakers' image as a frame of reference when deciding which of the many social meanings to assign to a contextualized chengyu usage. The predominantly positive evaluation of non-native speakers' appropriate use of chengyu provides empirical evidence for the beneficial role of these idiomatic expressions in establishing non-native Chinese learners as effective communicators, especially in formal contexts.




Zhang, Xin. "Native Chinese speakers' perception of Chinese idiom usage by foreign language learners." Buckeye East Asian Linguistics, vol. 2 (July 2016), p. 94-111.