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The development of aspectual marking in child Mandarin Chinese



Cross-linguistic research on the development of tense-aspect marking has revealed a strong effect of lexical aspect. But the degree of this effect varies across languages. Explanation for this universal tendency and language-specific variation is still an open issue. This study investigates the early emergence and subsequent development of four grammatical aspect markers in Mandarin, -le (perfective), zai (progressive), -zhe (durative), and -guo (experiential), in the longitudinal speech data of four children acquiring Mandarin Chinese. It was found that the emergence of grammatical aspect marking generally follows the predictions of the aspect hypothesis, perfective -le predominantly appearing with telic verbs, whereas progressive zai is almost exclusively used with activity verbs. However, the typological features of Mandarin also affect the early uses of -le, which is used with stative predicates more frequently than predicted, and the input patterns play an important role in children's aspect marking. The results support a usage-based learning process in accord with a language-specific system of aspectual semantics, rather than a strong universal association of grammatical aspect and lexical aspect.


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ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Jidong Chen, Department of Linguistics, California State University at Fresno, 5245 North Backer Avenue, PB 92, Fresno, CA 93740. E-mail:


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The development of aspectual marking in child Mandarin Chinese



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