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chinese l2 zhang120525

Department of East Asian Studies

Research Students' Seminars on Second Language Chinese
Chinese VP Ellipsis Constructions and their acquisition by second language learners

The second seminar of 2011-12 Easter Term will take place on Friday 25 May, in Room 8 & 9 at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The speaker will be Lulu Zhang, who will be presenting her PhD research on Chinese VP Ellipsis Constructions and their acquisition by second language learners (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 presentation reports the theoretical aspects of my ongoing PhD work, which aims to examine behaviours of Chinese Verb Phrase (VP) ellipsis constructions in English and Japanese speakers' second language (L2) Chinese grammar, in order to find out whether and to what extent these learners are able to attain target-like knowledge of these structures.

In Chinese there are three constructions analysed as coordinate structures involving VP-ellipsis, the licensors of which are an auxiliary, the Chinese shi 'be' or a verb; in contrast, in English there are two, and the missing constituents of which are licensed by either an auxiliary or the do-support. However, Japanese does not allow VP ellipsis constructions. The Chinese elliptical construction containing an auxiliary is considered to be the direct counterpart of the English one comprising an auxiliary, as the elided constituents in each construction are both vP, and are licensed by the auxiliary in each construction. However, this type of elliptical construction does not have a counterpart in Japanese.

Another Chinese ellipsis construction involved in this work is the one containing an empty element licensed by the Chinese shi 'be'. It does not have a counterpart in Japanese, but it shares some properties with the English one involving the do-support but, in fact, the elided scopes of the Chinese and English constructions are different. In line with Soh (2007), it is claimed that the Chinese shi occupies a position within TP, whilst Chinese and English auxiliaries, as well as the English do, appear within ModP, a position lower than that of the Chinese shi. Therefore, although the structures of these two constructions seem to be identical, the scope of deletion licensed by the Chinese shi is indeed larger than that by the English do.

The third type of Chinese construction employed is the one with an empty constituent following a verb. English does not allow a remnant verb followed by an empty element but Japanese does. Thus, unlike the other two Chinese ellipsis constructions, this one has a counterpart in Japanese but not in English. This Chinese ellipsis construction is considered as a VP ellipsis construction in previous literature but, in this research, following Xu (2003) and Li (2005, 2007), it is analyzed as a construction involving an argument ellipsis, analogous to the Japanese counterpart. The difference between Chinese and Japanese on one hand and English on the other can be accounted for the parametric differences on the Theta-feature Strength proposed by Boskovic and Takahashi (1998), stating that the Theta-features in English are strong whereas those in Chinese and Japanese are weak.

Given the differences between Chinese and English ellipsis constructions mentioned above, it is planned to conduct an empirical study to investigate whether and to what extent the three types of Chinese VP ellipsis constructions can be acquired by English speakers.

For further information, contact:

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