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An event-semantic account of spatial modification in the acquisition of Mandarin

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2018

Xiangjun DENG*
Affiliation:
Research Centre for Language and Cognition, School of Foreign Languages, Shenzhen University, Nanhai Ave 3688, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, P.R. China, 518060
Virginia YIP
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge–Chinese University of Hong Kong Joint Laboratory for Bilingualism Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre, Chinese University of Hong Kong The Chinese University of Hong Kong–Peking University–University System of Taiwan Joint Research Centre for Language and Human Complexity Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages, Chinese University of Hong Kong
*
*Corresponding author. E-mail: dengxj98@gmail.com

Abstract

This study investigates Mandarin-speaking children's knowledge of event semantics in interpreting spatial modifiers with zai ‘at’ after a posture verb or before a placement verb. The event-semantic principles investigated include subevent modification (Parsons, 1990) and aspect shift (Fong, 1997). We conducted an experimental study using modified forced choice, video choice, and elicited production techniques with five groups of children (two- to six-year-olds) and an adult control group. Three-year-olds were sensitive to the ambiguity of zai-PPs with placement verbs and posture verbs, suggesting guidance from principles of aspect shift and subevent modification. On the other hand, distributional properties of the input play a role in acquiring the interpretation and word order of zai: e.g., four-year-olds significantly differed from adults in accepting non-target V-zai sentences, as some verb classes can take postverbal prepositional phrases with zai while others cannot in adult usage.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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