Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-xfwgj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-17T05:15:57.289Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Predicting the development of interrogative forms and functions in early years: a corpus-based study of Mandarin-speaking young children*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 February 2016

The University of Hong Kong, PRC
The University of Hong Kong, PRC
The University of Hong Kong, PRC
Address for correspondence: Dr Hui Li, Men Wah Complex Room 509, Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. tel: (852) 39175248; fax: (852) 2858-5649;


This study examined the development of and possible predictors of interrogative forms and functions in early childhood Mandarin. All the interrogatives drawn from the Early Child Mandarin Corpus (168 children 2;6, 3;6, 4;6, and 5;6) were analyzed. The main results indicated that (i) there were significant age effects in interrogative forms and functions, with the periods between the ages of 3;6 and 4;6 and between the ages of 2;6 and 3;6 being critical in the early acquisition of interrogative forms and functions, respectively; (ii) the form–function preference was verified, with wh-questions being primarily used to seek information (RfI), and intonation/echo and rhetorical questions being used to request action (RfA); (iii) more than half (59·5%) of the Mandarin interrogatives were used for RfI, whereas only 38·9% of them were used for RfA; and (iv) age, TV viewing time, and parent–child conversation time were the significant predictors of interrogative development.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



This paper is based on a project (RGC Ref No. 747109) funded to the first author by the Research Grants Council of the Government of the Hong Kong SAR. Thanks are given to all the participating children and their parents, Professor A. H. Liu, Dr Eva Chen, and the student research assistants.



Barr, R., Lauricella, A., Zack, E. & Calvert, S. L. (2010). Infant and early childhood exposure to adult-directed and child-directed television programming: relations with cognitive skills at age four. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 56, 2148.Google Scholar
Celce-Murcia, M. & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book: an ESL/EFL teacher's course, 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.Google Scholar
Cheng, R. L. (1984). Chinese question forms and their meanings. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 12, 86147.Google Scholar
Chouinard, M. (2007). Children's questions: a mechanism for cognitive development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 72 (1, Serial No. 286).Google ScholarPubMed
Davis, E. (1932). The form and function of children's questions. Child Development 3, 5774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
DeJong, P. F. & Leseman, P. P. M. (2001). Lasting effects of home literacy on reading achievement in school. Journal of School Psychology 39, 389414.Google Scholar
Ding, X. H. (2006). The distributional features and developing of Chinese yes-no questions used by elementary and intermediate foreign learners. Chinese Teaching in the World 3, 103–12.Google Scholar
Duch, H., Fisher, E. M., Ensari, I., Font, M., Harrington, A., Taromino, C., Yip, J. & Rodriguez, C. (2013). Association of screen time use and language development in Hispanic toddlers: a cross-sectional and longitudinal study. Clinical Pediatrics 52, 857–65.Google Scholar
Fahn, R. L. S. (2003). Chinese-speaking children's production of wh-questions. Studies in Linguistics 29, 82117.Google Scholar
Freed, A. F. (1994). The form and function of questions in informal dyadic conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 21, 621–44.Google Scholar
Gao, B. N. (2009). L2 acquisition of Chinese wh-questions by English-speaking learners. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Iowa, USA.Google Scholar
Gao, H. (2007). A cognitive-functional investigation of questions in Chinese. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.Google Scholar
Gao, M. C. F. (2000). Mandarin Chinese: an introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Graddol, D. (2004). The future of language. Science 303, 1329–31.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gullo, D. F. (1982a). A developmental study of low-and middle-class children's responses to wh-questions. First Language 3, 211–21.Google Scholar
Gullo, D. F. (1982b). Facilitating children's understanding of questions through pictures: implications for social class language differences. First Language 3, 121–38.Google Scholar
Haden, C. A., Reese, E. & Fivush, R. (1996). Mothers’ extratextual comments during storybook reading: stylistic differences over time and across texts. Discourse Processes 21, 135–69.Google Scholar
Hart, B. & Risley, T. R. (1992). American parenting of language-learning children: persisting differences in family–child interactions observed in natural home environments. Developmental Psychology 28, 1096–105.Google Scholar
Hart, B. & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes. Google Scholar
Holzman, M. (1972). The use of interrogative forms in the verbal interaction of three mothers and their children. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 1, 311–36.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hsieh, M. L. (2014). Form and meaning: negation and question in Chinese. Unpublished Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California.Google Scholar
Huang, C. T. J. (1991). Modularity and Chinese A-not-A questions. In Interdisciplinary approaches to language (pp. 305332). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.Google Scholar
Hudon, T. M., Fennell, C. T. & Hoftyzer, M. (2013). Quality not quantity of television viewing is associated with bilingual toddlers’ vocabulary scores. Infant Behaviour and Development 36, 245–54.Google Scholar
James, S. L. & Seebach, M. A. (1982). The pragmatic function of children's questions. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 25, 211.Google Scholar
Li, H. & Rao, N. (2000). Parental influences on Chinese literacy development: a comparison of preschoolers in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore. International Journal of Behavioural Development 24, 8290.Google Scholar
Li, H., Tse, S. K., Wong, J. M. S., Wong, E. C. M. & Leung, S. O. (2013). The development of interrogative forms and functions in early childhood Cantonese. First Language 33, 168–81.Google Scholar
Li, H., Wong, E. C. M., Tse, S. K., Leung, S. O. & Ye, Q. (2015). Asking for action or information? Crosslinguistic comparison of interrogative functions in early child Cantonese and Mandarin. First Language 35, 213–8.Google Scholar
Li, Y. M. & Chen, Q. R. (1997) The comprehension and generation of question systems by children: a comparative study [in Chinese]. Chinese Teaching in the World 4, 90–8.Google Scholar
Liing, W. J. (2014). How to ask questions in Mandarin Chinese. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, City University of New York, USA.Google Scholar
Matthews, S. & Yip, V. (1994). Cantonese: a comprehensive grammar. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
McLoyd, V. C. (1998). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American Psychologist 53, 185204.Google Scholar
Nathanson, A. I. & Rasmussen, E. E. (2011). TV viewing compared to book reading and toy playing reduces responsive maternal communication with toddlers and preschoolers. Human Communication Research 37, 465–87.Google Scholar
Pempek, T. A., Kirkorian, H. L. & Anderson, D. R. (2014). The effects of background television on the quantity and quality of child-directed speech by parents. Journal of Children and Media 8, 211–22.Google Scholar
Piaget, J. (1926). The language and thought of the child. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.Google Scholar
Roberts, J., Jurgens, J. & Burchinal, M. (2005). The role of home literacy practices in preschool children's language and emergent literacy skills. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 48, 349–59.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Ross, C. & Ma, J. H. S. (2006). Modern Mandarin Chinese grammar. London / New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Rowland, C. F., Pine, J. M., Lieven, E. V. & Theakston, A. L. (2003). Determinants of acquisition order in wh-questions: re-evaluating the role of caregiver speech. Journal of Child Language 30, 609–35.Google Scholar
Sachs, J. & Devin, J. (1976). Young children's use of age-appropriate speech styles in social interaction and role-playing. Journal of Child Language 3, 8198.Google Scholar
Shatz, M. (1979). How to do things by asking: form–function pairings in mothers’ questions and their relation to children's responses. Child Development 50, 1093–9.Google Scholar
Sinclair, A. & Gessel, R. V. (1990). The form and function of questions in children's conversations. Journal of Pragmatics 14, 923–44.Google Scholar
Smith, M. E. (1933). The Influence of age, sex, and situation on the frequency, form and function of questions asked by preschool children. Child Development 4, 201–13.Google Scholar
Su, Y. E., Jin, Y., Wan, G. B., Zhang, J. S. & Su, L. Y. (2014). Interpretation of wh-words in Mandarin-speaking high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 8, 1364–72.Google Scholar
Sully, J. (1896). Studies of childhood. New York: D. Appleton and Co. Google Scholar
Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Hashizume, H., Asano, K., Asano, M., Sassa, Y., … & Kawashima, R. (2013). The impact of television viewing on brain structures: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Cerebral Cortex, bht315.Google Scholar
Tizard, B. & Hughes, M. (1984). Young children learning. London: Fontana.Google Scholar
Tomopoulos, S., Dreyer, B. P., Berkule, S., Fierman, A. H., Brockmeyer, C. & Mendelsohn, A. L. (2010). Infant media exposure and toddler development. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 164, 1105–11.Google Scholar
Tse, S. K. & Li, H. (2011). Early child Cantonese: facts and implications (Studies on Language Acquisition [SOLA] Series, 42) . Berlin: Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar
Wang, Y. (2010). A cross-linguistic study of yes-no questions in Japanese and Chinese conversational discourse. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.Google Scholar
Wong, W. & Ingram, D. (2003). Question acquisition by Cantonese speaking children. Journal of Multilingual Communication Disorders 1, 148–57.Google Scholar
Yuan, B. P. (2007). Japanese speakers’ second language Chinese wh-questions: a lexical morphological feature deficit account. Second Language Research 23, 329–57.Google Scholar
Yuan, B. P. (2013). Is Chinese ‘daodi’ ‘the hell’ in English speakers’ L2 acquisition of Chinese daodi … wh … questions? Effects and recoverability of L1 transfer at L2 interfaces. International Journal of Bilingualism 17, 403–30.Google Scholar
Zhou, P. (2015). Children's knowledge of wh-quantification in Mandarin Chinese. Applied Psycholinguistics 36, 411–35.Google Scholar
Zhu, C. & Wu, X. (2011). A study of yes/no questions in English and Chinese: with special reference to Chinese EFL learners’ understanding of their forms and functions. Journal of Pragmatics 43, 632–47.Google Scholar