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Norms for English-Chinese Translation of Ambiguous Words

Pei-Shu Tsai
National Changhua University of Education, Changhua, Taiwan


Previous studies have shown that a word with multiple translations in another language is more challenging and takes longer time for students to learn. For example, the English word “wave” can refer to water movements in the sea, movements of energy, and actions of greeting. Words with equally recallable meanings are balanced homonyms, and words with a dominant and a less frequent meaning are unbalanced homonyms. However, previous studies provided little information about how Chinese learners of English recognize these multiple meanings, and such studies on the translation correspondence between English and Chinese words were usually based on speakers growing up in mainland China. There has not been a systematic database so far that can offer information about the difficulty levels of English polysemous words for students in Taiwan and the number of English meanings that Taiwanese students can recognize. Therefore, when testing students’ reactions to English words, the comparisons may not be fair because the students may recognize only some instead of all meanings of an English word. To establish a database of Taiwanese Mandarin translation, this study has first compiled wordlists of English-Chinese translation ambiguity from previous studies, from which 1,400 words were chosen. Next, word difficulty was indexed by English corpus frequency and level defined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Participants were native Chinese speakers who majored in English or translation or had been placed in a high-level first-year English class. Chinese translations have been collected from 39 participants so far. Each participant has provided Chinese translations for at least 100 English words. Each word in the wordlist has been evaluated by at least 20 participants. The results are expected to provide valuable data that can be used as teaching materials for translation and a helpful resource for bilingual processing studies.


translation association norms, bilingual processing, psycholinguistics, polysemy

International Joint Conference of APLX, ETRA40, and TESPA 2023