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chinese l2 lin120316

Department of East Asian Studies

Research Students' Seminars on Second Language Chinese
Syntax-discourse interface vs thematic feature reassembly vis-à-vis Ditransitivity in English-Chinese interlanguages

The fourth seminar of 2011-12 will take place at 4pm on Friday, 16th MarchFebrury, 2012 in Room 214 (second floor) at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The speaker will be Yvonne LIN, who will present her PhD project on syntax-discourse interface vs thematic feature reassembly vis-à-vis Ditransitivity in English-Chinese interlanguages (see abstract below).

The Research Students' Seminars on Chinese as a Second Language are held by the L2 Chinese research group of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The aim of these seminars is to provide research students with a platform to discuss recent development in the field, to present their research work and to receive feedback from teaching staff and fellow students. The seminars are supervised by Dr Boping Yuan.

All are welcome!


Early account of the Interface Hypothesis (IH) proposes that non-interface domains (e.g. 'narrow syntax') are unproblematic whereas internal interfaces (e.g. syntax/lexicon interface) pose problems to adult L2 end-state grammars (Sorace and Filiaci, 2006; Sorace, 2005, 2006). Recent proposition of the IH argues that external interfaces are more difficult than internal ones (Sorace, 2011; Sorace and Filiaci, 2006; Sorace and Serratrice, 2009) where particularly interpretable features concerning external interfaces are persistently vulnerable to non-target-like variability in L2 near-native grammars, leading to residue optionality and permanent divergence from the target language.

This empirical study presents evidence of L2 acquisition of Chinese ditransitivity by adult English speakers, a linguistic phenomenon which affirms yet disconfirms the IH. Similar to English, an archetypal model concerning Chinese ditransitivity is the dative alternation (DA), which involves the alternation between the double object and the propositional object constructions (e.g. Mali song-le Yuehan yi-ben shu 'Mary gave John a book' [V NP NP] vs Mali song-le yi-ben shu gei Yuehan 'Mary gave a book to John' [V NP PP]). The two variants are synonymous but different in form. The (im)possibility of DA is semantically driven (Levin, 2005; Levin and Rappaport-Hovav, 2001; Pinker, 1989, inter alia). The solution to the puzzle of the DA is to master the syntax/lexical semantics interface relating to ditransitive constructions. On the other hand, it is widely documented that the selection of a specific dative structure is usually discourse oriented and determined by factors such as information status (Arnold et al., 2000; Snyder, 2003; Wasow, 1997a&b, 2002; among others). Added to the cross-linguistic differences between Chinese and English regarding the lexical semantic properties of ditransitive verb classes and language-specific lexical idiosyncrasies, ditransitivity in these two languages is a perfect showcase for demonstrating mismatches in various domains of grammar and interfaces.

Adopting a cross-sectional approach, the study extends the IH to include L2 development (White, 2011), ranging from post-beginner to very advanced stages. The objectives of the study are to investigate the degree of difficulties vis-à-vis English speakers' L2 Chinese ditransitivity in four domains: syntax/discourse interface, syntax/lexical semantics interface, pure syntax and reassembly of thematic and aspectual features, which has been scarcely researched on L2 acquisition (Yuan, 2011), this implicates the idiosyncratic behaviours of some Chinese verb classes (e.g. the ambiguous bidirectional verbs). An experiment was administered to 204 respondents employing an acceptability judgment test, a preference ranking task and a picture-sentence matching task. The results manifest that the four domains could be graded in this ascending order of difficulty: external interface < syntax < internal interface < reassembly of thematic/aspectual features.

For further information, contact:

Ziyin Mai
PhD Student, Chinese Studies
Department of East Asian Studies