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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: Coming to Order: Natural selection and the origin of syntax in the Mandarin speaking Child (China) Add Dissertation
Author: Mary Erbaugh Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of California, Berkeley, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 1982
Linguistic Subfield(s): Psycholinguistics; Language Acquisition;
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Language Family(ies): Sino-Tibetan
Director(s): Wallace Chafe
Dan Slobin
James Matisoff

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.