LINGUIST List 14.1037

Mon Apr 7 2003

Diss: Psycholing: Erbaugh "Coming to order..."

Editor for this issue: Anita Yahui Huang <>


  1. erbaugh, Psycholing: Erbaugh "Coming to order: Natural selection and..."

Message 1: Psycholing: Erbaugh "Coming to order: Natural selection and..."

Date: Sat, 05 Apr 2003 21:01:27 +0000
From: erbaugh <>
Subject: Psycholing: Erbaugh "Coming to order: Natural selection and..."

Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 1982

Author: Mary S. Erbaugh 

Dissertation Title: 

Coming to order: Natural selection and the origin of syntax in the
Mandarin speaking Child (China)

Linguistic Field: Psycholinguistics, Language Acquisition 

Subject Language: Chinese, Mandarin (code: CHN )

Subject Language Family: Sino-Tibetan (code: )

Dissertation Director 1: James A. Matisoff
Dissertation Director 2: Dan I. Slobin
Dissertation Director 3: wallace Chafe

Dissertation Abstract: 

Chinese children acquiring Mandarin as their first language prefer the
syntactic patterns most typical of Sino-Tibetan. Acquisition is as
difficult as European, Semitic or Japanese. Lack of inflectional
morphology for case, person, number, gender, tense, mood and voice
forces the child to determin meaning, form, class, and sentential
function without surface clues despite high homophony.

Early word choice is spread across major form classes, though
agent-actions and object names predominate. All morphemes are used as
if they were full and free, and all verbs as potential active
causatives, but nouns are never used as verbs. Reference-establishing
SVO order is early and reliable but invariant. Discourse-sensitive
SOV variants are avoided; this is contrary to the historical trend.
Order is excellent when meaning is clear, but collapses when opaque.
Semantically empty, neutral-tone functors and particles are correct
only in sentence-final position. Only one verbal relation fits into
the preverbal slot for adult time, place, mannar, modal and negative.
Word class slips adjacent to omissions. Contrastive word classes with
fixed and open inventories are alternated in series.

Aspect marks boundedness, then perfective, then completion. The
earliest negatives are differentiated for perfective. Progressive
appears before event time; duration and quantification are much later.
Semantically highly-transitive forms are preferred, and are
double-marked for "enhanced transitivity." Error rate rises in direct
correlation with complexity until the child is about 3.2; it then
slowly declins. The adult "quiz style" of input is adaptive to the
language design.

Analysis is based on contextualized transcripts of 65 hours of child
tapes, 5 hours of adult control. Children aged 1.4-3.0 from
Mandarin-speaking homes were taped during play with their families in
Taipei, Taiwan. Four children were taped intensively; one child 1.9
and one 2.10 were taped for an hour bi-weekly for one year.
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