Word order and argument structure in child Sinitic: A comparative look at Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghainese
Invited conference paper presented and published in conference proceedings



摘要Word order and argument structure in child language has been a testing ground for various theories of language and language acquisition. How children acquire word order and argument structure can shed light on whether default mappings exist between thematic roles and syntactic functions (Pinker 1984, 1987; Bowerman 1990, Pye 1990). It can help verify divergent claims on whether abstract syntax is available during the earliest stages of grammatical development (Crain 1991; Wexler 1998; Tomasello 1992, 2000, 2003; Lieven, Pine and Baldwin 1997). Children’s early word order and verb argument structures reflect their sensitivity to parametric variation in syntax (Hyams 1989; Lightfoot 1989, 1991; Baker 2001, 2005).

In this paper, we examine word order in the early clauses and nominals of Chinese children around two years of age, based on longitudinal data from Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghainese, with a view to addressing the above issues. All three dialects exhibit relative unselectivity in the types of thematic roles occurring in subject and object positions (Huang 1997; Lin 2001), and in the central role of the classifier in nominal structure (Chao 1968; Cheng and Sybesma 1999). At the same time, these dialects vary with regard to topic prominence, with Shanghainese demonstrating greater topic-prominence and more OV features than Cantonese or Mandarin (Qian 1997, 2011; Xu and Liu 1998). Variation is also found in nominal structure, with the classifier playing a more salient referential role in Cantonese (Cheung 1989; Au Yeung 2006) than in Mandarin or Shanghainese.

Our findings indicate that two-year-olds acquiring these Sinitic languages show a predominant SVO order, mapping a variety of thematic roles to subject (agent, theme, location, experiencer) and object positions (including theme, location, goal, instrument, type), highlighting a sensitivity to the unselectivity of arguments in the target language. Chinese toddlers use verbs in versatile combination with nominals and as complements to higher verbs, testifying to the status of verbs and nouns as firmly established categories (contrary to usage-based claims). The prominent role of classifiers and the use of nominalizations are likewise evidenced in the early nominals of Chinese children, indicating the continuity of functional categories. The various child languages differ, however, with regard to the incidence of double nominative and OV structures, bare classifier phrases, and headless nominals, pointing to an early awareness of dialectal variation in syntax.
著者Lee Hun Tak Thomas
會議名稱The Workshop on Word Order in Chinese

上次更新時間 2020-02-06 於 15:01