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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?