Volume 14, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1879-9264
  • E-ISSN: 1879-9272
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This experimental study examines the acquisition of null and overt pronoun interpretations in Chinese as a second language by native speakers of English. A linguistic phenomenon not present in the native language of the learners is identified: the null element in the embedded subject position of Mandarin resultative constructions can only refer to the main-clause subject, while an overt pronoun in the same position can refer both to the main-clause subject and to another entity in the discourse. Thus the acquisition task includes learning a new functional morpheme, a null element, as well as constraining its interpretation in the resultative construction. We tested 59 L2 learners of Chinese at different proficiency levels and 51 native Mandarin speakers on a Truth Value Judgment Task. The learners showed a pattern of interpretation that was statistically indistinguishable from the native speakers’ in all but one context. We argue that our findings point to largely successful acquisition of the requisite proform interpretations, even though the restrictions on the interpretation of null elements cannot be transferred from the native language.


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