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Academic Paper


Title: Focus identification in child Mandarin
Author: Peng Zhou
Email: click here to access email
Homepage: http://www.maccs.mq.edu.au/members/profile.html?memberID=222
Institution: Macquarie University
Author: Stephen Crain
Email: click here to access email
Homepage: http://www.maccs.mq.edu.au/members/profile.html?memberID=55
Institution: Macquarie University
Linguistic Field: Syntax
Subject Language: Chinese, Mandarin
Abstract: In this study, we investigated how Mandarin-speaking children and adults interpret focus structures like Zhiyou Yuehan chi-le pingguo ‘Only John ate an apple’ and Shi Yuehan chi-de pingguo ‘It is John who ate an apple’. We found that children tended to associate focus operators zhiyou ‘only’ and shi ‘be’ with the verb phrase (VP), whereas adults uniquely associated them with the subject noun phrase (NP). To account for this difference, we propose that children initially treat focus operators as adverbials, thus ending up associating them with the VP. In order to assess our proposal, we examined children's understanding of zhiyou-constructions with negation, like Zhiyou Yuehan meiyou chi pingguo ‘Only John didn't eat an apple’. It was found that children, like adults, consistently associated the focus operator with the subject NP in this construction. The findings have an important bearing on language learnability, since negation assists children in reaching the adult-like interpretation.

CUP at LINGUIST

This article appears in Journal of Child Language Vol. 37, Issue 5, which you can read on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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