The development of noun-modifying constructions in child Mandarin

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The development of noun-modifying constructions in child Mandarin


Author: Liu, Zhaojing
Title: The development of noun-modifying constructions in child Mandarin
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2015
Subject: Chinese language -- Relative clause.
Chinese language -- Noun phrase.
Chinese language -- Syntax.
Language acquisition.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Dept. of Chinese and Bilingual Studies
Pages: ix, 124 pages : illustrations
Language: English
InnoPac Record:
Abstract: This thesis investigates the acquisition of noun modifying constructions (NMCs), in the form of [Modifier + de + (Noun)], attested in Mandarin-speaking children’s naturalistic speech. Data came from 850 NMCs (including those traditionally defined as relative clauses (RCs)) produced by 135 Mandarin speaking children aged 3;00 to 6;00, from the cross-sectional naturalistic speech corpus "Zhou2" in CHILDES, and the 2699 NMCs (including RCs) attested in the mother-to-child speech in the same corpus. This thesis addresses the following issues and documents the associated phenomena: (i) subject-object preference in RC acquisition (Study 1); (ii) semantic relationships between modifier and head noun in developmental NMCs (Study 2); and (iii) headed-headless preference in NMC acquisition (Study 3). Both child output and adult input are considered across the three studies. Study 1 addresses the issue of subject versus object preference in the acquisition of Mandarin RCs. Results indicated that object RCs are used more frequently than subject RCs in both child naturalistic speech and adult-to-child input. Such object preference differs from the developmental patterns observed in European languages, which show a clear subject over object advantage in RC acquisition (e.g. Diessel & Tomasello 2005; and review by Hsu et al 2009). The current new dataset based on naturalistic speech adds to the growing body of literature that object RCs are not necessarily more difficult than subject RCs in acquisition cross-linguistically (Kim 1987; Kidd et al 2007; Ozeki & Shirai 2007; Yip & Matthews 2007; Suzuki 2011 Chen & Shirai 2014). On the other hand, given that there are also mixed findings in the child Mandarin RC acquisition literature, future research is needed to examine the issue of subject-object asymmetry in greater depth in child Mandarin RC acquisition.
Study 2 characterizes the semantic relations between the modifier and the head noun of the NMCs, based on the generative lexicon framework (Pustejovsky 1995; Lenci 2000). All the NMCs attested in the corpus were classified according to the 4 major roles of qualia structure between the modifier and the head noun. Results indicated that NMCs (both in child output and adult input) expressing the formal facet of the head noun's meaning are most frequently produced, followed by those expressing the constitutive quale, and then the telic or the agentive quale. Results also showed that the majority of NMCs expressing the agentive and telic quales are those "traditional" RCs (called RC-type NMCs here), while the majority of NMCs expressing the formal and constitutive quales are non-RC type NMCs (mostly involving adjectival or nominal modification). RC-type NMCs emerge either alongside the other non-RC type NMCs at the same time, or emerge later than non-RC type NMCs for the constitutive quale. The findings are consistent with the semantic nature and complexity of the four qualia relations: formal and constitutive aspects of an object (called natural type concepts in Pustejovsky 2001, 2006) are more basic attributes, while telic and agentive (called artificial type concepts in Pustejovsky 2001, 2006) are derived and often eventive (hence conceptually more complex). Study 3 examines the use of headed NMCs versus headless NMCs. Consistent with previous findings (Flynn & Foley 2004; Packard 1988), children showed a clear early preference for headless over headed NMCs in their naturalistic speech, with headless structures being more frequently produced than headed structures at the early stages of development. As age increases, this headless over headed asymmetry gradually diminishes. This preference for headless structures, however, does not appear in the adult input data. Also interestingly, this general developmental preference for headless NMCs is not attested across all types of NMCs. For instance, whereas child NMCs expressing the formal facet of the head noun's meaning are more frequently headless; in striking contrast, the majority of child NMCs expressing the constitutive quale are headed across all the ages observed. This developmental phenomenon seems difficult to be accounted for by purely syntactic accounts (Flynn & Foley 2004; Packard 1988). To summarize, the current naturalistic dataset are consistent with the developmental scenario in which the earliest NMCs in child Mandarin are frequently headless formal non-RC type; followed by headed constitutive non-RC type NMCs; and then RC-type NMCs. These findings are consistent with the idea that in Asian languages such as Japanese, Korean and Chinese, RCs develop from attributive constructions specifying a semantic feature of the head noun in acquisition (Diessel 2007, c.f. also Comrie 1996, 1998, 2002).

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