The emergence of verb argument structure in Mandarin Chinese

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This study examines the emergent linguistic properties of the early production of verb argument structure in Mandarin Chinese. Longitudinal naturalist speech data of one Mandarin-learning child were coded and analyzed for their argument structure from age 1;3 to 3;4, the crucial age for early syntactic development. The results reveal an early emergence and dominance of transitive verbs and the theme-only argument. Transitive verbs tend to have reduced number of arguments, whereas intransitive verbs tend to sustain one argument. The acquisition of thematic roles proceeds in the order of theme, agent, location, and recipient. The child’s production of verb argument structure reflects the typological features of Mandarin and reveals some language-general route in the acquisition of argument structure, which suggests the importance of explicit instruction of the discourse-pragmatic properties of verb arguments in teaching and learning Mandarin verbs to second language learners.


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