The acquisition of lexical and grammatical aspect in Chinese

This study reports three experiments on how children learning Mandarin Chinese comprehend and use aspect markers. These experiments examine the role of lexical aspect in children's acquisition of grammatical aspect. Results provide converging evidence for children's early sensitivity to (1) the association between atelic verbs and the imperfective aspect markers zai, -zhe, and -ne, and (2) the association between telic verbs and the perfective aspect marker -le. Children did not show a sensitivity in their use or understanding of aspect markers to the difference between stative and activity verbs or between semelfactive and activity verbs. These results are consistent with Slobin's (1985) basic child grammar hypothesis that the contrast between process and result is important in children's early acquisition of temporal morphology. In contrast, they are inconsistent with Bickerton's (1981, 1984) language bioprogram hypothesis that the distinctions between state and process and between punctual and nonpunctual are preprogrammed into language learners. We suggest new ways of looking at the results in the light of recent probabilistic hypotheses that emphasize the role of input, prototypes and connectionist representations.
Publication type
Journal article
Publication date
1998

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