Volume 7, Issue 2
  • ISSN 2213-8706
  • E-ISSN: 2213-8714
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The acquisition of the grammatical knowledge related to inflectional morphology and syntax-pragmatics interface have both been shown to be challenging for heritage speakers (e.g., Montrul et al. 2008Polinsky 20062008Sorace et al. 2009Montrul 2009Benmamoun et al. 2013aLaleko & Polinsky 2016). In these previous work on heritage language acquisition, the acquisition of inflectional morphology (e.g. either agreement morphology or topic marking) is also a relevant acquisition task associated with the syntax-discourse phenomena under investigation. In this paper we focus on the acquisition of discourse-conditioned structures by heritage speakers when inflectional morphology is not part of the learning task. Specifically, we report results of a picture-verification experiment focusing on English-dominant heritage Chinese speakers’ grammatical knowledge of null objects. As a topic-prominent language lacking verbal tense/agreement morphology, the licensing and identification of null arguments in Chinese has nothing to do with agreement morphology. In addition, unlike other topic-prominent pro-drop languages, Chinese has no inflectional morphology associated with grammatical subjects/objects and topic phrases. Without the interference of co-occurring inflectional morphology, we found that there is no significant difference between heritage Chinese speakers and the monolingual baseline in their acceptance of null objects in contextually appropriate contexts. The results of our study cast doubt on the thesis that heritage speakers are unable to acquire discourse-related knowledge (cf. Sorace & Serratrice 2009Laleko 2010Laleko & Polinsky 2016) and support Yuan’s (2010) claim that interface categories should not be considered holistically.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): heritage speakers; Mandarin Chinese; null objects; syntax-pragmatics interface
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