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Chinese Language and Linguistics

Research Projects:

Mental Representation of WH-words in non-native grammars of Chinese (Dr Boping Yuan)

The effect of increased processing demands on the L2 syntax-pragmatics interface: Evidence from English speakers’ L2 Chinese attitude-bearing wh-questions (Dr Boping Yuan)

This project is an empirical study of the syntax-pragmatics interface by English- speaking learners of Chinese. The preliminary results of an acceptability judgment task show that learners demonstrated knowledge of the syntax of the Chinese daodi…wh-question and converged with native Chinese in judging the Chinese wh-question with just one attitude embedded in it. However, they failed to show target-like behaviours in the Chinese wh-question with two attitudes embedded in it. Second language (L2) learners were found to be able to make a distinction between Chinese daodi…wh-questions that violate the syntax-pragmatics interface constraints and those that don’t, but they were indeterminate in rejecting the former. Preliminary analyses suggest that it may not necessarily be the interface per se which causes the problem but the amount of computation load required in processing a sentence. This is likely to be a useful account for degrees of success and failure at L2 interfaces.

Syntax-pragmatics and syntax-semantics interfaces in L2 Chinese base-generated topics (Dr Boping Yuan)

Chinese has been considered a topic-prominent language in the literature, in contrast to English, which is claimed to be a subject-prominent language. In Chinese, it is common to have a topic at the sentence-initial position, followed by a sentence, which serves as a comment about the topic. The topic in the “Chinese-style” topic structure is base-generated, but the base-generation of this topic is subject to various pragmatic and semantic constraints. Given that there is no base-generated topic in English, we plan to conduct an empirical study with a computer-assisted reaction-time technique, investigating whether English-speaking learners of Chinese are able to acquire the base-generated topic in their L2 Chinese and whether the syntax of the base-generated topic in their L2 Chinese is regulated by pragmatic and semantic constraints. More specifically, the following research questions are asked: (a) Do English speakers’ L2 Chinese grammars make a semantic/pragmatic distinction between the superordinate and the hyponym in their Chinese-style topic sentence and only allow the former but not the latter to serve as the base-generated topic? (b) Do their L2 Chinese grammars make a pragmatic distinction between a part-whole (physical, conceptual) relationship and a possessor-possessed relationship in their Chinese-style topic sentence and only allow the former but not the latter to occur in their Chinese-style topic sentences? (c) Do their L2 Chinese grammars make a pragmatic distinction between a family/intimate relationship and non-family/intimate relationship and only allow the former but not the latter to occur in their Chinese-style topic sentences? (d) Do their L2 Chinese grammars make a distinction between a range topic and an instance topic and incorporate a semantic notion of comparison in the former but not necessarily the latter?

Semantic and Pragmatic Factors in L2 Chinese “NP + unaccusative verb + numeral-classifer+Noun” Structure (Dr Boping Yuan)

It has been recognized since Perlmutter’s (1978) Unaccusative Hypothesis that within the class of intransitive verbs, there are two subclasses, the unaccusative verb and the unergative verb. In Chinese, unaccusative verbs are distinguishable from unergative verbs and the single argument of an unaccusative verb, but not that of an unergative verb, can remain in the underlying object position as well as in preverbal position. When the single argument NP of the unaccusative verb is definite, it is not allowed to stay in situ and has to move to the preverbal position. In contrast, the single argument of the unergative verb is always in preverbal position whether it is definite or indefinite, and it is not allowed to be in postverbal position. In this study, we focus on the behaviours of “NP + unaccusative verb + numeral+classifer+Noun”, examining whether and in what way this structure is regulated by its semantic and pragmatic constraints in English speakers’ L2 Chinese grammars. More specifically, we want to investigate whether in English speakers’ L2 Chinese “NP + unaccusative verb + numeral+classifer+Noun” structure, the preverbal NP is a base-generated topic and does not have a thematic relation with the predicate, and the postverbal NP is an internal argument base-generated in the underlying object position and is marked with a inherent partitive case. In addition, we also want to investigate whether this sentence structure in English speakers’ L2 Chinese grammars is subject to both semantic and pragmatic constraints. Semantically, the internal argument must be indefinite if it is to remain in situ because definite NPs are not compatible with inherent partitive case. In addition, the verb used in this sentence structure must be an unaccusative verb of change of state or direction, and it cannot be an unergative verb. Pragmatically, this sentence structure is regulated by pragmatic conditions that the preverbal NP and the postverbal NP must form a close personal relationship or a part-whole relationship.

Dormant features in second language lexicon (Dr Boping Yuan)

Adopting a de-compositional approach to items in the lexicon, this project involved an empirical study to investigate Chinese speakers’ second language (L2) acquisition of English wh-on-earth questions (i.e. questions with phrases like what on earth or who on earth). An acceptability judgment task, a discourse-completion task and an interpretation task were used in the study, and preliminary analyses of the results indicate that in Chinese speakers’ L2 English, the form of wh-on-earth can be learned and stored native-like, but without being endowed with a fully elaborated features. A distinction between active features and dormant features in L2 lexicon is made in the analyses, and the preliminary results suggest that features transferred from learners’ L1 to their L2 are likely to lose their vigour and vitality in their L2 lexicon and become dormant if there is no evidence in the target language input to confirm or disconfirm them. A typical consequence of a dormant feature is likely to be random behaviours of a related structure in L2 learners’ production and interpretation. The preliminary results also suggeset that semantic features, discourse features as well as morphosyntactic features can all become dormant in L2 lexicon.

The orthographic structure of characters in Dunhuang manuscripts (Dr Imre Galambos)

Multilingual literacy in Dunhuang in the 9th-10th centuries (Dr Imre Galambos)


PhD Research Projects:

Emma Wu (Language Teaching Officer)

As well as teaching Chinese language, Emma is also interested in second language acquisition, on-line learning development, course book writing, interpreting and translating.

Chang Liu (PhD Student)

'My Ph.D research focuses on the interface of Syntax and Phonology in L2 grammars, namely, the grammars of learners of Chinese whose native language is English. In particular, the Postverbal Prepositional Phrases, the Duration and Frequency Phrases, and Bare Adjective structures will be examined.'

    Ziyin Mai (PhD Student)

    'My Ph.D research focuses on focus construction in L2 Chinese'.