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Title: The Second Language Acquisition of Mandarin Nominal Syntax
Authors: Charters, Areta Helen
Keywords: Sino-Tibetan Languages
Mandarin Chinese
Issue Date: 2005
Publisher: University of Auckland
Abstract: This thesis establishes a natural acquisition order for 18 nominal structures in Mandarin SLA, and assesses the extent to which that order can be explained as a consequence of cognitive processing demands. The natural acquisition order is based on a longitudinal study of three adults learning Mandarin in a classroom environment in Auckland, New Zealand. Two representations of an average emergence order are derived from the three individual orders: a ranking of mean emergence times (RMET) and a ranking of mean emergence ranks (RMR). Processing demands are calculated in three different ways: once on the basis of six developmental stages identified in Pienemann’s Processability Theory (Pienemann, 1998c), once on the basis of a detailed analysis of each nominal structure according to the generative grammar of LFG (Bresnan, 1982, 2001); and finally on the basis of the Minimalist Programme (Chomsky 1995; 1999; 2000). All rest upon a prior analysis of lexical feature structures and constituent structures evident in the learners’ output over the course of a year. The standard six-stage model of Processability Theory proves unable to differentiate between most nominal structures, because they fall within the single developmental category of so-called ’phrasal’ structures. However, processing demands calculated on the basis either of LFG or of the MP prove to be highly correlated with both individual and average emergence orders. On the basis of these results, various generalisations are made about the relevance of different kinds of syntactic processes to the determination of emergence order. In particular, c-structural complexity and thematic structure are found to be factors most significantly associated with later emergence times. LFG and the MP each provide interesting insights into different aspects of syntactic processing that impact on the acquisition of a second language; LFG throws light on the significance of the grammaticalisation of thematic structure; the MP throws light on the processes of lexical construction, and the interactions between this and constituent structure. Both indicate the significance of delays in feature valuation or unification as c-structural complexity increases.
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