LINGUIST List 23.2496

Fri May 25 2012

Review: Applied Ling; Language Acquisition; Syntax: Wilder & Åfarli (2010)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 25-May-2012
From: Eleonora Luzi <>
Subject: Chinese Matters: From Grammar to First and Second Language Acquisition
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EDITORS: Wilder, Chris and Åfarli, Tor A.TITLE: Chinese Matters: From Grammar to First and Second Language AcquisitionPUBLISHER: Tapir Academic PressYEAR: 2010

Eleonora Luzi, Dipartimento di Linguistica, Università degli Studi Roma Tre,Rome, Italy


This volume presents nine studies on Chinese linguistics, ranging from syntaxand semantics to first and second language acquisition.

Joanna Ut-Seong Sio “The syntax of [+human] terms in Cantonese”Sio’s paper deals with the existence of referential expressions in languageslacking DPs or ClPs. Given Abney’s (1987) hypothesis that the DP is the locus ofreferential properties, article-less languages, like Chinese, have to encodereferentiality somewhere else. Sio analyzes a particular kind of nominal inCantonese, those which contain the particle “aa” (aa-nominals). She firstidentifies two kinds of aa-nominals: aa1 nominals, which behave like bare nounsin identifying reference and in their predicativeness, and aa2 nominals, whichbehave differently. If an aa1 particle, added to aa1 nominals, is a lexical itemwhich does not affect syntax but simply behaves like a filler, an aa2 particle,in contrast, is a syntactic item: it is generated in D and selects an NP as acomplement. Indeed it (a) is related to referential properties and (b) does notcontain a ClP. When an aa2 is added to a common noun or a kinship term, it makesthem radically definite. Likewise, when it is added to a proper name, which isdefinite but still can be forced to have a common noun reading, this coercion isno longer possible. Moreover, aa2 nominals are resistant to modification. Sioconcludes her analysis claiming that aa2 heads a functional projection that isrelated to referential properties; in other words, it can be considered as thehead of a DP.

Tor A. Åfarli & Fufen Jin “The syntax of presentative sentences in Norwegian andMandarin Chinese: Toward a comparative analysis?”Åfarli and Jin’s paper is an interesting analysis of Chinese and Norwegianpresentative structure. These constructions seem to be structurally quitesimilar, but a closer examination reveals important differences. The comparisonbetween the Chinese “you”-structure and the Norwegian “be”-constructionhighlights the fact that only the Norwegian structure is existential, whereasthe Chinese one is essentially possessive. Despite this difference in meaning,they can both be represented through a post-verbal small clause. Moreover,Åfarli and Jin propose that Norwegian and Chinese motion presentativestructures, despite their similarity in meaning, should be representeddifferently. Consistent with the “be”-type structure, the Norwegian motion-type(“komme”-type) presentative can be represented through a post-verbal smallclause. Chinese motion-type (“lai”-type) presentative constructions, converselyto “you”-type possessive structures, contain a direct object. This implies aChinese-internal partition in that “you”-type structures, being possessive inmeaning, contain a small clause, whereas the “lai”-type structures contain adirect object. Norwegian, on the other hand, represents both types ofpresentative, the “be” and “komme” types, with a post-verbal small clause.

Chris Wilder “Chinese Relatives and the Coda Construction”Wilder presents a semantic analysis of the Chinese coda construction andinterprets it as a restrictive relative construction on the basis of acomparison with the integrated verb second (IV2) German construction. Currentproposals consider the coda construction as a paratactic construction (Li &Thompson, 1981) or a secondary predication (Huang, 1987). Both proposalsexplicitly reject the restrictive relative interpretations since in Chinese amodification of an NP is expected to precede the NP. Starting from an analysisof the IV2 construction, Wilder draws a comparison with the Chinese codaconstruction. Indeed, like the German construction, the Chinese codaconstruction requires the nominal modified by the second clause to be aninfinitive. The explanation given by Gärther (2001) of indefinite-onlyrestriction in IV2, applied to the Chinese coda construction by Wilder, is thatthe coda can only be assertional and the NP modifiable only by anon-presuppositional coda. Supporting the German parallel, Wilder also invokesthe role of intonation. As in IV2, the Chinese coda construction is pronouncedwithin a single intonation unit, like restrictive relative clauses. Relying onthe German-Chinese parallel, Wilder refutes Li and Thompson’s proposal aboutcoda construction presentatives. Moreover, Wilder rejects the secondarypredication analysis on the basis that if the coda were a secondary predicationit would presumably be an adjunct adjoined to the VP or IP. As such it wouldsemantically modify the VP or the IP.

Thomas Hun-tak Lee “Nominal Structure in Early Child Mandarin”Lee’s contribution is on the acquisition of nominal structure in early L1Mandarin. The late appearance of determiners in Mandarin, as well as in otherlanguages like English and German, does not fit well with nativist assumptions.Besides other attempts at reconciliation, Lee supports the weak continuity view.In his study he explores early nominal structure in child Mandarin, focusing onwhether the full-fledged NP is present, when numerals and classifiers appear,how the mapping between syntactic form and referentiality takes place andwhether the earliest uses of numeral phrases are referential or non-referential.Lee addresses the research questions by analyzing longitudinal data from twoMandarin speaking children. The results underline the fact that, with respect toargument nominals, structures containing classifiers appear a few months laterthan the first nominals (bare nouns, proper nouns, and demonstrative locatives).The general delay is explained by the fact that children are able to managenumber words before they can learn the syntax of classifiers. From theclassification of predicates and nominals emerges the fact that only somenominal structures are used as arguments as well as predicates. This means thatchildren from the earliest stage are sensitive to form-meaning mapping.Moreover, children seem to use early numeral phrase structures first with anon-specific reference, contradicting the widespread idea that referentiality isunmarked. This should not be surprising since number words are probablyintroduced to mark numerosity. The data lead Lee to formulate a developmentalhypothesis made up of two stages. In stage 1 the NP is preceded just by theSpecificity Phrase which can bear [+specific] as well [-specific] features.After a few months the NumeralP and ClP appear, between the SpP and NP, forpurposes of enumeration.

Miao-Ling Hsieh “Post-verbal Locative/Directional Phrases in Child Mandarin: ALongitudinal Study”Hsieh’s study is concerned with the syntax and semantics of post-verbal “zai”and how children acquire it. Post-verbal “zai”-constructions can have a locativeand a directional meaning. Based on the use of post-verbal “zai” phrases, Hsiehidentifies five types of verbs that can occur with it, with or withoutconstraints, and cannot occur with it. Therefore, according to Hsieh’s analysis,the acquisition of post-verbal “zai” means that children have to learn whether averb allows a locative “zai” post-verbally and what constraints the verb has onthe place noun to yield a directional reading. The study is based onlongitudinal data of a Chinese speaker videotaped until the age of 5;10. Theresults indicate that the child makes errors with the locative “zai” until 3;10and errors with the directional “zai” up till 5;8, showing that he firstacquires the knowledge that only a special class of verbs allow post-verbal“zai” to be locative and then he learns that if post-verbal “zai” isdirectional, it is sensitive to different verb types.

Yi-ching Su “Temporal reference of bare verbs in Mandarin child language”Bare verbs in Mandarin Chinese are interesting in the context of recent researchabout non-finite forms in child utterances around the ages of 2/3 years,including verbs lacking tense and agreement marking. This phenomenon, known asthe Root Infinitive phenomenon, has been investigated in other languages likeEnglish, French, Dutch, German, Italian, etc. The research questions arise fromthe interesting literature overview; in particular, Su’s concerns are aboutwhether bare verbs are present in Mandarin, being a language without overt tenseand agreement marking; whether bare sentences allow present, past, or futureevent reference; whether they allow imperatives like rich inflectionalmorphology languages do; whether bare verbs show an eventive vs. non-eventivecontrast; whether there exists a correlation between temporal reference andtelicity; and lastly whether bare sentences in child Mandarin come mostly withnull or overt subjects. The case study carried out by Su on one subject confirmsthat bare sentences have temporal references (present, past, future); there is acorrelation between telic predicates and past tense and atelic predicates andpresent tense or a modal reading. Moreover, it emerges that overt subjectsgradually increase as a child grows up.

Fufen Jin, Kristin M. Eide & Tor A. Åfarli “Pro-drop in Mandarin-NorwegianBilinguals”Jin, Eide, and Åfarli’s paper contributes to the debate about the two competingpositions on bilingual development: autonomous development and interdependentdevelopment. The paper investigates the pro-drop properties inNorwegian-Mandarin bilinguals born into Chinese-speaking immigrant families inNorway. The literature review points out that cross-linguistic influencemanifests itself in the form of transfer, but also in the forms ofacceleration/delay and in quantitative differences. Several studies haveinvestigated pro-drop in child language when co-occurring with root structuresso it is generally linked to verbal inflection. The data of this study come froma Mandarin-Norwegian bilingual and were collected in a Mandarin context and in aNorwegian context. Results highlight the fact that there is cross-linguisticevidence in terms of transfer, since the subject uses topic chains and topiclinked object drop in Norwegian, and in terms of quantity, since he dropssubjects at a much higher rate than monolingual Norwegian children. Moreover, hedoes it more when talking to other bilingual children.

Mónica Cabrera & Nicholas Usaj “The L2 Acquisition of the Mandarin ChinesePerfective Marker -- le by L1 English Speakers”Cabrera and Usaj’s paper deals with the L2 acquisition of the Mandarin particle“le” by L1 English speakers. The main concerns of the authors are the influenceof learning context and the non-equivalence in conveying completed actionsbetween the two languages: the particle “le” and the English past tense workdifferently. Textbooks and manuals are careful to underline these differencesbut they do not explain in which aspects they differ. Moreover, instructors donot give many details to learners, and learners have to rely only on positiveevidence. This leads the authors to hypothesize that study abroad programlearners should master “le” better than at-home learners since they can takeadvantage of input exposure. The hypothesis is then verified with 25 Englishlearners of Mandarin and five Mandarin native speakers. Five learners took partin the summer study program, five in a semester study program and five wereat-home learners. They took a multiple choice test where they had to choose thecorrect Mandarin translations of English sentences. A one-way ANOVA revealedthere was not a statistically significant difference for the correct use of“le”, but there was a significant difference for the correct absence of “le.”Moreover, looking at the means, it is clear that when not using “le” is theacceptable choice, there is a difference between one experimental group and thenative speakers, suggesting that at-home learners tend to oversupply “le” tocontexts in which it is not acceptable. So the more time spent abroad, thebetter the mastery of the perfective “le.”

Fufen Jin “Ultimate L2 Acquisition of the Chinese BA Construction: Two Case Studies”Jin’s paper deals with the L2 acquisition of the complex “ba” construction,focusing on its syntactic and semantic constraints. It generates an inversion ofthe object, called the ba-object, so that the final word order in the “ba”construction is NP-(Neg)-ba-VP-X. The research questions deal with the learners’awareness of the kind of object the ba-NP is in its non ba-counterpart: aV-object (a direct object, indirect object, and instrumental/locative object) ora V’-object (an indirect object in a ditransitive construction). The researchquestions deal also with the semantic constraints of the “ba” construction: theba-NP must be definite and the entire action describes something affected. Afinal concern is about the age effect on ba-construction acquisition. TwoNorwegian advanced learners of Mandarin and 20 Mandarin Chinese speakers took anacceptability judgment test. One participant learned Mandarin as an adult andshe now lives in Norway even though she does not miss any occasion to speakChinese; the other one was born in China, lived in Beijing up to seven years ofage, went back to Norway but returned to China where she now lives. Theyperformed differently in two aspects of the test: they were both aware of thekind of object the ba-NP was in the non-ba counterpart of the sentence given inthe test, but one learner accepted preverbal negation (meiyou + VP) and showedthat she was not aware of the affectedness constraint. The first issue seems todepend on the “formulaic” nature of meiyou +VP, so that the leaner remembered iteasily and even extended it to ungrammatical contexts. These differences in theresults may be considered an effect of the learners’ age: only the learner whostarted learning Chinese in her early childhood has successfully acquired thewhole set of properties of the ba-construction.


This volume gathers papers presented at CHINOSAT 2 (Workshop on ComparativeChinese -- Norwegian Syntax, including Acquisition Topics), held in Trondheim,at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on October 1-2,2009. Like the first edition of the Conference (CHINOSAT 1), the second meetingwas also preceded by a volume edited by researchers of the NTNU. As the editorssay in the Introduction, linguistic considerations about Chinese and Norwegianare quite new and therefore they suggest interesting and challenging areas ofresearch, in particular from the comparative and acquisitional points of view.The idea of comparing Norwegian to Chinese is interesting due to both anexternal reason, China being a new world power, and an internal reason, giventhe genetic and morphological differences between Chinese and Norwegian. Chineseis, indeed, an interesting language of comparison with European languages, bothfrom a syntactic point of view and from an acquisitional point of view. It is nolonger considered an exotic language, from which one can get interestingcounterexamples to overly European-centric linguistic considerations, and it isprobably this new linguistic position that has led researchers, in recent years,to carry out numerous and interesting studies dealing with Chinese and itscontributions to linguistic and applied linguistic research (Biq, 2002; Erbaugh,2002; Gong, 2010; Wu, 2001). This volume fits perfectly into the panorama.Moreover, the comparison with Norwegian looks promising in revealing interestingand innovative contributions to linguistic research.

The heterogeneous contents of the volume allow coverage of several aspects ofthe languages involved: reports of syntactic analyses follow semantic ones, L1acquisition studies precede L2 acquisition ones. Moreover, no linguistic topicinvestigated in one paper is investigated in another paper of the volume, sothat the book can give the reader a complete panorama of the most interestingaspects of the Chinese language in comparison to Norwegian, and sometimes toEnglish. Together with traditional linguistic issues, like the “ba”-constructionor the particle “le”, other topics, less investigated in the literature, likecoda constructions, the preventative construction, or the post-verbal “zai” areinvestigated. The choice to also include a paper about Cantonese should behighlighted and appreciated since it reminds readers that the Chinese languageshould not always be identified with Putonghua (Modern Standard Mandarin).

The heterogeneity of the volume, however, can disappoint the reader who expectsa consistent analysis of linguistic aspects ranging from syntactic/semanticanalyses to acquisition investigations. On the contrary, each contributionstands alone and deals with different aspects of linguistic research. As isalways the case in miscellaneous volumes, the limited space obliges the authorsto leave aside numerous aspects that would have otherwise deepened the studies.Indeed, sometimes the reader is left wondering what the results would have beenif the sample had been wider, or if the sample had included speakers withdifferent L1s as a control group. I would consider the volume a collection ofgood starting points for further and future research. This is true in particularfor the acquisitional studies. Indeed, even though the papers deal withparticular cases of bilinguals (Norwegian-Chinese bilinguals), probably not sofrequent, or in general with Norwegian learners of Chinese, the participantsamples are often limited, with the only exception being Cabrera and Usaj’swork: the two children in Lee’s and Jin’s studies, and the one child in Hsieh’s,Su’s, and Jin, Eide, and Åfarli’s studies. Therefore, they should predominantlybe considered case studies, very useful in future research planning or inextending research.

Despite this, every author achieves his/her goal and tries to answer his/herresearch questions. I would recommend this volume to all researchers who want towork with Chinese from a comparative point of view, in particular within agenerativist approach and on the topics investigated in the volume. Appliedlinguists who work with bilinguals and with learners of Chinese in particularwill find this volume interesting.


Abney, Steven. 1987. The English noun phrase in its sentential ASPect. MA: MITdissertation.

Biq, Yung-O. 2002. Classifier and Construction: the Interaction of GrammaticalCategories and Cognitive Strategies. Language and Linguistics 3(3). 521-542.

Erbaugh, Mary S. 2002. Classifiers are for specification: complementaryfunctions for sortal and general classifiers in Cantonese and Mandarin. Cahiersde Linguistique -- Asie Orientale 3(1). 33-69.

Gong, Jiang Song. 2010. Chinese classifiers Acquisition: Comparison of L1 Childand L2 Adult Development. Missoula: University of Montana.

Huang, C.-T. James. 1987. Existential sentences in Chinese and (in)definiteness.In: E. Reuland & A. ter Meulen (eds.), The representation of (in)definiteness.MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. 226-253.

Li, Charles & Sandra Thompson. 1981. Mandarin Chinese: a functional referencegrammar. University of California Press: Berkeley/Los Angeles.

Wu, S. L. 2001. Learning to express motion events in an L2: The Case of ChineseDirectional Complements. Language Learning 61(2). 414-454.


Eleonora Luzi received a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Roma Tre with a dissertation on the acquisition of complex constructions in L2 Italian. Her research interests are Second Language Acquisition, L2 Italian, acquisition of syntax, and assessment and testing. She now works at the L2 Italian Certification Office of the University of Roma Tre.

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