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LINGUIST List 23.1262

Tue Mar 13 2012

Diss: Lang Acq/Mandarin: Chang: 'Acquisition of Structure and Interpretation: Cases from Mandarin bear and non-bear noun phrases'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <xiyanlinguistlist.org>


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Date: 11-Mar-2012
From: Hsiang-Hua Chang <chang23oakland.edu>
Subject: Acquisition of Structure and Interpretation: Cases from Mandarin bear and non-bear noun phrases
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Institution: Michigan State University, USA
Program: Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2011

Author: Hsiang-Hua Chang

Dissertation Title: Acquisition of Structure and Interpretation: Cases from Mandarin bear and non-bear noun phrases

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin (cmn)

Dissertation Director:
Cristina Schmitt

Dissertation Abstract:

Children's production of bare nominals is universal. When acquiring
languages disallowing bare nominals, children will develop from the bare to
the non-bare stage. However, Mandarin nominals may appear bare or non-bare
in various positions with all kinds of interpretations. This dissertation
conducts two acquisition studies to examine the production and
interpretation of bare and non-bare nominals in Mandarin.

The production study examined the spontaneous speech data produced by two
Mandarin-speaking children: a girl (2;0-2;6) and a boy (2;10-3;3).
Distributional analyses and variation analyses using GoldVarb were
conducted to compare children's production of bare and non-bare nominals,
taking into consideration various syntactic and semantic aspects. The
results show that four variables ‒ MLU, Interpretation, Verb Type, and
Aspect Marker ‒ have significant effects on the variation of bare and
non-bare nominals. Within the nominal phrase, (1) adjective is the first
element children add to a bare noun root (age 2;0). (2) Possessives
nominals emerge as early as age 2;1. (3) The order of appearance frequency:
possessives, classifiers, numerals, and demonstratives. (4) Non-bare
nominals most frequently associate with the object position and the
existential interpretation.

The comprehension study tested the interpretation of bare and demonstrative
nominals among 110 Mandarin-speaking children and adults. The study finds
that nominal types and age have significant effects on the interpretation.
The findings show that (1) children, like adults, have both generic and
existential definite readings for bare nominals. (2) They distinguish
between bare and demonstrative nominals by assigning more generic
interpretations to bare nominals. (3) They prefer generic readings for bare
nominals, as opposed to existential definite readings. Demonstrative
nominals also receive a considerable amount of generic interpretations. (4)
Two variables significantly affect the interpretation of nominals:
pragmatics and non-linguistic properties of the predicates.

This study discovers a non-target generic interpretation of Mandarin
demonstrative nominals assigned by both children and adults. The individual
analysis finds a significantly positive correlation between the generic
reading for demonstratives and that for bare nominals, which suggests that
the generic reading of demonstratives may result from individual
preference. The non-target generic interpretation may also be accounted for
semantically and syntactically: (1) Mandarin-speaking children treat
demonstratives as a less-specified determiner like the Spanish definite;
(2) Mandarin speaking children project demonstrative nominals as NP, not DP.

The production study discovers variables that significantly associate with
the emergence of the non-bare nominals and the order of emergence of
various nominal internal elements. The comprehension study reveals
empirical data of the interpretation of bare and demonstrative nominals.
This dissertation contributes to the understanding of the acquisition of
Mandarin noun phrases and sheds light on further intralinguistic and
crosslinguistic research.



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