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chinese l2 yuan120629

Department of East Asian Studies

Research Students' Seminars on Second Language Chinese
Chinese attitude-bearing wh-questions in English speakers' L2 Chinese

The effect of increased computation demands on the L2 syntax-pragmatics interface

The third and final seminar of 2011-12 Easter Term will take place on Friday 29th June, in Room 8 & 9 at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The speaker will be Dr Boping Yuan, who will speak on Chinese attitude-bearing wh-questions in English speakers' L2 Chinese (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!


This paper reports an empirical study of the syntax-pragmatics interface in English- speakers' L2 Chinese daodi…wh-questions, which are considered approximate counterparts of English wh-questions with phrases such as what the hell, who on earth, what the dickens (cf. Huang 2010). English questions of this type are generically called wh-the-hell questions (cf. Dikken and Giannakidou 2002). In a Chinese daodi…wh-question, daodi can co-exist with a wh-word, such as shenme "what", shei "who", weishenme "why", zenme "how", ect. However, daodi cannot co-exist with the wh-word zenme when the latter carries the meaning of "how come". This forms a striking contrast with the other wh-questions, which allow daodi to co-exist with the other types of wh-words in Chinese wh-questions. The unacceptability of daodi co-existing with zenme "how come" in a Chinese wh-question is due to the fact that the wh-question bears two attitudes in it, an attitude of impatience borne by daodi and the other attitude of counter-expectation carried by the wh-word zenme "how come". This suggests that the Chinese wh-question can accommodate both daodi and a wh-word in it as long as the wh-word does not carry an attitude with it. The attitude is in the domain of pragmatics. The grammaticality of Chinese wh-questions with daodi involves the syntax-pragmatics interface and they are governed by a pragmatic factor of attitude.

Great efforts have been made in L2 research to identify why, unlike children acquiring their L1, adult L2 learners rarely succeed in achieving native-like competence in their acquisition of the target language. In recent years, an increasing number of researchers have turned their attention to interfaces for accounting for the failure in adult L2 acquisition, particularly since the Interface Hypothesis (IH) proposed by Sorace and Filiaci (2006). The IH originally proposed that language structures involving an interface between syntax and other cognitive domains are less likely to be acquired completely than structures that do not involve this interface. In more recent work by Sorace and her colleagues, the syntax-pragmatics interface has been identified as being particularly vulnerable (cf. Sorace 2011). Given that the grammaticality of Chinese wh-questions with daodi involves the syntax-pragmatics interface, it serves as a good candidate for testing the latest reformulation of the IH.

In the empirical study, an acceptability judgment test was administered to 95 English-speaking learners of Chinese and 18 native speakers of Chinese. Learners at a very advanced proficiency level demonstrated knowledge of the syntax of Chinese daodi…wh-questions. However, they did not show target-like behaviours in the question with two attitude features embedded in it. 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. This is argued to be due to the fact that an increased computation demand is required in the former than in the latter. It is proposed that the computation demand required at an interface is likely to be a useful account for the indeterminacy at L2 interfaces.

For further information, contact:

Chang Liu 刘畅
PhD Student, Chinese Studies
Department of East Asian Studies