Characteristics of the Chinese language in AX Semantics

Fundamentals

Chinese has three genders for nouns: masculine, feminine and neuter, and there are two numbers: singular and plural. Often the gendered distinction exists only in writing, as in the case of the pronouns "他[ta]" (he) and " 她[ta]" (she). Chinese grammar intensively relies on particles. Verb tenses are configured by particles instead of morphology/inflection. Chinese grammar is very different from Indo-European languages. In the following example, you will see how our platform tackles Chinese grammar from the perspective of lexicon and container settings.

Chinese has various variants: China (Mandarin, simplified), Taiwan(Mandarin, traditional), Hongkong, and Macao (both Cantonese). They are all supported by our platform.

grammatical namevaluesexamples
gendermasculine高的男人 (tall-高的/man-男人)
feminine高的女人 (tall-高的/woman-女人)
neuter高的树 (tall-高的/tree-树)
------
numbersingular一栋红的房子 (one+classifier-一栋/red-红的/house-房子)
plural兩栋红的房子 (two+classifier-兩栋/red-红的/houses-房子)
------
adjectivepre-noun (big)
------
verb tensepresent (go)
past去了 (went)

The standard order of a noun phrase in Chinese is the following: preposition + determiner + numeral + adjective + noun.

See for example:

关于    这     三本    受欢迎的  书
about  these  three  popular  book
PREP   DET    NUM    ADJ      NOUN
"about these three popular books"

Lexicon

Nouns

For Chinese nouns, the lexicon needs to encode gender and number.

Examples

The lexicon entry for 孩子 [hai zi] (child) contains:

  • gender: neuter
  • inflection table for case and number:
SingularPlural
Nominative孩子[hai zi] (child)孩子们[hai zi men] (children)

The lexicon entry for 女孩 [nu hai] (girl) contains:

  • gender: feminine
  • inflection table for case and number:
SingularPlural
Nominative女孩[nu hai] (girl)女孩们[nu hai men] (girls)

Alternative: Chinese number can be changed by adding particles.

For example, by adding the particles "很多[hen duo]"(many) to "孩子[hai zi]"(child), it makes singular nouns become plural.

Verbs

For Chinese verbs, the lexicon only needs to encode tense. The container will generate the most common tense particle, "了[le]". Therefore, you can make use of the lexicon when you need a different tense particle. For example, you might want to have a different tense particle "过[guo]" for the verb "玩[wan]"(play).

Example

The lexicon entry for 玩[wan] (play) contains

  • past tense: 玩过[wan guo] (played)

Container settings

Numerals

Nouns need a classifier when cardinal numerals are used. If a cardinal is used in a container, the AX NLG platform will add the most common classifier, "个[ge]", like in the following example:

  • A classifier "个[ge]" is added between "三[san]"(three) and "人[ren]"(people).
 三   "个" 人
[san "ge" ren]
(three-三"个" people-人)

However, if different classifiers are needed, they have to be added manually between number, like in the example below:

  • A classifier "栋[dong]" is added between "两[liang]"(two) and "房子[fangzi]"(houses).
 两     "栋"   房子
[liang "dong" fangzi]
(two-两"栋" houses-房子)

Additionally, four types of numerals are possible on the AX NLG platform: cardinal, cardinal as digit, ordinal, and ordinal as digit:

cardinalordinal
text九个女孩。
(nine girls)
第九个女孩。
(the ninth girl)
digit9个女孩。
(9 girls)
第9个女孩。
(the 9th girl)

Adjectives

The adjectives in Chinese are very regular. As shown in the following example, a particle "的[de]" is put between adjective and noun. The container will automatically deal with that, so adding adjectives in the lexicon is unnecessary.

Examples
大"的"房子
[da "de" fangzi]
(big-大"的" house-房子)
红"的"帽子
[Hong de maozi]
(red-红"的" hat-帽子)

Verbs

In Chinese, verb tense is expressed via particles. The AX NLG platform includes the most common tense particles and automatically adds the tense particles right after the verb stem. If you want to add different particles after the verb stem, you can add them in the verb lexicon. If you need to change the position of tense particles, please see the following advanced examples.

Examples
  • Common examples : past tense particle "了[le]" is added right after the verb stem (e.g. "去[qu]"(go) and "吃[chi]"(eat)).

    去/去"了"
    [qu/qu "le"]
    (go/went)
    
    吃/吃"了"
    [chi/chi "le"]
    (eat/ate)
    
  • Advanced examples: if you need particles in a different position, you have to add them manually or create branches for different tense particles.

    • present progressive tense: using the particle "正[zheng]" to indicate tense, but not adding it right after the verb.
    他们"正"从巴黎飛往塞舌尔。
    [Tamen "zheng" cong bali fei wang sai she er]
    (They-他们 particle-"正" from-从 Paris-巴黎 are flying to-飛往 the seychelles-塞舌尔)
    
    • past tense: using the particle "了[le]", but not adding it right after the verb.
    他们从巴黎飛往塞舌尔"了"。
    [Tamen cong bali fei wang sai she er "le"]
    (They-他们 from-从 Paris-巴黎 flew to-飛往 the seychelles-塞舌尔 particle-"了")
    
    • future tense: using the particle "将[jiang]", but not adding it right after the verb.
    他们"将"从巴黎飛往塞舌尔。
    [Tamen "jiang" cong bali fei wang sai she er]
    (They-他们 particle-"将" from-从 Paris-巴黎 will fly to-飛往 the seychelles-塞舌尔)
    

Alternative: You can also clarify tense directly with the time expression (like today, tomorrow, yesterday) as

part of the sentence. A time expression is usually addressed at the beginning of the sentence, like in the following example.

昨天我吃猪肉。
[zuótiān wǒ chī zhū ròu]
(Yesterday-昨天 I-我 ate-吃 pork-猪肉)

Language Variants

The AX NLG platform offers 5 variants of the Chinese language:

  • China (simplified Chinese)
  • Hong Kong (Cantonese)
  • Macao (Cantonese)
  • Taiwan (traditional Chinese)
  • Singapore (simplified Chinese)

Firstly, they differ in their characters. Simplified Chinese characters have easier structure than their traditional ones. For instance, the character, "叶[Ye]" meaning ‘leaf’ has notably less embellishments than the traditional version, "葉[Ye]". This means that also determiners and pronouns differ between variants. For example, the Cantonese demonstrative pronoun is 呢[ne], whereas in simplified Chinese it is 该[gai].

Secondly, there are some phrases specific to each language. For example, "鬼佬[Gwai Lo]" in Cantonese refers to a foreigner. In Mandarin, the phrase is "老外[Lao Wai]".