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Academic Paper


Title: Acquisition of generic noun phrases in Chinese: learning about lions without an ‘-s’
Author: Twila Tardif
Institution: University of Michigan
Author: Susan A Gelman
Institution: University of Michigan
Author: Xiaolan Fu
Institution: Chinese Academy of Science
Author: Liqi Zhu
Institution: Chinese Academy of Science
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics
Subject Language: Chinese, Mandarin
English
Abstract: English-speaking children understand and produce generic expressions in the preschool years, but there are cross-linguistic differences in how generics are expressed. Three studies examined interpretation of generic noun phrases in three- to seven-year-old child (N=192) and adult speakers (N=163) of Mandarin Chinese. Contrary to suggestions by Bloom (1981), Chinese-speaking adults honor a clear distinction between generics (expressed as bare NPs) and other quantified expressions (‘all’/suo3you3 and ‘some’/you3de). Furthermore, Mandarin-speaking children begin to distinguish generics from ‘all’ or ‘some’ as early as five years, as shown in both confirmation (Study 2) and property-generation (Study 3) tasks. Nonetheless, the developmental trajectory for Chinese appears prolonged relative to English and this seems to reflect difficulty with ‘all’ and ‘some’ rather than difficulty with generics. Altogether these results suggest that generics are primary, and that the consistency of markings affects the rate at which non-generic NPs are distinguished from generics.

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This article appears IN Journal of Child Language Vol. 39, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site .



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