The acquisition of wh-question constructions in Mandarin Chinese by L1 isiXhosa-speaking and L1 English-speaking high school learners

van Heukelum, Marie-Louise de la Marque (2016-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study investigates the acquisition of main clause wh-questions in Mandarin Chinese, at an elementary stage of language learning, by first language (L1) Englishand L1 isiXhosa-speaking high school learners. English is termed a “wh-movement” language because the wh-expression moves from its canonical position in the clause into a sentence-initial position. In English, the wh-feature is said to be marked and strong ([uwh*]), resulting in movement of the wh-expression. isiXhosa and Mandarin, however, are both “wh-in-situ” languages because the wh-feature is claimed to be unmarked and weak ([uwh]), resulting in the wh-expression receiving its phonetic spell-out “on site”. According to the Initial Hypothesis of Syntax (IHS; Platzack, 1996), unmarked features are present in a learner’s L1 (and L2/L3) initial state as the “default” features. The [-movement] parameter associated with the selection of the unmarked [uwh] feature results in in-situ wh-question constructions and is claimed to be the first parameter tested against target language (TL) input. Consequently, the acquisition of in-situ wh-questions is expected to be unproblematic. It was tested whether L1 isiXhosa (L2 English L3 Afrikaans) participants would outperform L1 English (L2 Afrikaans) participants on a set of wh-question tasks as a result of facilitative L1 transfer, or whether results would be comparative due to the unmarked [uwh] feature’s early instantiation in the participants’ Mandarin interlanguage grammar. Sentence formation, oral production, grammaticality judgement and sentence translation tasks were administered to 20 participants. Results did not reveal a statistically significant difference between the two groups’ performance, but an analysis of the participants’ errors revealed different patterns indicative of L1 and L2 (or L3) transfer. Both groups failed to fully acquire the correct wh-in-situ structure in Mandarin and transfer from English or Afrikaans was evident, resulting in a close to even split between wh-movement and wh-in-situ structures being produced or rated as grammatical. The two groups’ production/selection of both wh-in-situ and wh-movement questions at an elementary stage of language acquisition suggests that the unmarked [uwh] feature associated with the [-movement] parameter is instantiated in their early TL Stellenbosch University https://scholar.sun.ac.za iii grammars, but that transfer of the [+movement] parameter is still prevalent at this stage. It is predicted that without the necessary morphological competence required to recognise that the marked strong [uwh*] feature of wh-movement languages is not instantiated in Mandarin, variability will persist in the form of transfer from the learners’ previously acquired grammars until Mandarin input is sufficient to eliminate the selection of the [uwh*] feature and application of the [+movement] parameter. This study supports the claim that unmarked features are present in a learner’s initial state. Crucially, however, results indicate that L3/L4 (and, by assumption, L2) acquisition does not only commence with the most economical derivations, but that all other previously acquired linguistic knowledge forms the basis for the learner’s initial hypotheses about the TL grammar. As such, it is claimed that the IHS does not have precedence over cross-linguistic influence. Finally, it is also revealed that, as with child language acquisition, wh-words are acquired in a specific order by adults too, and that this acquisition order is based on the syntactic and semantic complexity of the wh-word in question.

AFRIKAANS OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie doen ondersoek na die verwerwing van hoofklous-wh-vrae in Mandarynse Chinees, tydens die vroeë fase van taalverwerwing, deur eerstetaal (T1-) Engels- en T1-isiXhosa-sprekende hoërskoolleerders. Engels word beskryf as ’n “whskuif”- taal vanweë die feit dat die wh-uitdrukking uit sy kanoniese posisie in die klous na ’n sin-inisiële posisie verskuif. In Engels word die wh-kenmerk beskou as gemarkeerd en sterk ([uwh*]), eienskappe wat lei tot die verskuiwing van die whuitdrukking. IsiXhosa en Mandaryns is egter beide “wh-in-situ”-tale omdat die whkenmerk beskou word as ongemarkeerd en swak ([uwh]), eienskappe wat op hul beurt veroorsaak dat die wh-uitdrukking foneties uitgespel word in sy oorspronklike posisie. Volgens die Inisiële Hipotese van Sintaksis (IHS; Platzack, 1996) is ongemarkeerde kenmerke teenwoordig in ’n taalleerder se T1- (en T2-/T3-) inisiële staat as die “verstek”-kenmerke. Die [-skuif]-parameter wat geassosieer word met die seleksie van die ongemarkeerde [uwh]-kenmerk lei tot in-situ-wh-vraagstrukture en word beskou as die eerste parameter wat teen teikentaal- (TT-) toevoer getoets word. Daar word gevolglik verwag dat die verwerwing van in-situ-wh-vrae onproblematies sal wees. Die studie het beoog om vas te stel of T1-isiXhosa (T2-Engels T3-Afrikaans) deelnemers beter sal vaar as T1-Engels (T2-Afrikaans) deelnemers op ’n stel whvraag- take vanweë fassiliterende oordrag uit hul T1, of vergelykbaar sal presteer vanweë die ongemarkeerde [uwh]-kenmerk se vroeë instansiëring in die deelnemers se Mandarynse intertaal-grammatika. Sinsformulering-, mondelinge-produksie-, grammatikaliteitsoordeel- en sinsvertalingtake is deur 20 deelnemers voltooi. Alhoewel daar geen statisties beduidende verskil tussen die twee groepe se punte was nie, het ’n analise van die deelnemers se foute wel verskillende patrone wat dui op oordrag uit die T1 en T2 (of T3) opgelewer. Nie een van die twee groepe het ten volle daarin geslaag om die korrekte wh-in-situ-struktuur van wh-vrae in Mandaryns te verwerf nie en oordrag uit Engels of Afrikaans was duidelik. Dít het gelei tot ’n byna gelyke hoeveelheid wh-skuif- en wh-in-situ-strukture wat geproduseer of as grammatikaal beoordeel is. Die twee groepe se produksie/seleksie van beide wh-in-situ- en wh-skuif-vrae tydens die vroeë fase van taalverwerwing dui daarop dat die ongemarkeerde [uwh]-kenmerk wat met die [-skuif]-parameter geassosieer word, geïnstansieer is in hulle vroeë TTgrammatikas, maar dat oordrag van die [+skuif]-parameter steeds van krag is op hierdie stadium. Dit word voorspel dat, sonder die nodige morfologiese bevoegdheid om te besef dat die gemarkeerde sterk [uwh]-kenmerk van wh-skuif-tale nie in Mandaryns geïnstansieer is nie, varieerbaarheid sal voortduur in die vorm van oordrag vanuit die leerders se reeds verwerfde grammatikas tot en met Mandarynse toevoer voldoende is om die seleksie van die [uwh*]-kenmerk en toepassing van die [+skuif]- parameter te stuit. Hierdie studie ondersteun die veronderstelling dat ongemarkeerde kenmerke in ’n leerder se inisiële staat teenwoordig is. Van grootste belang egter is die resultate se aanduiding dat T3/T4- (en, vermoedlik, T2-) verwerwing nie slegs met die mees ekonomiese afleidings begin nie, maar dat alle reeds verwerfde talige kennis die basis vorm vir ’n leerder se aanvanklike hipoteses oor die TT-grammatika. Gevolglik word dit voorgestel dat die IHS nie voorrang geniet bo kruis-linguistiese invloed nie. Lasstens word dit ook openbaar dat, soos in kindertaalverwerwing, wh-woorde ook deur volwassenes in ’n spesifieke volgorde verwerf word, en dat hierdie verwerwingsvolgorde gebaseer is op die sintaktiese en semantiese kompleksiteit van die betrokke wh-woord.

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