A corpus-based investigation of spatial language production in Chinese preschoolers
Spatial language plays an important role in early childhood development by facilitating spatial cognition and leading to spatial learning. However, the existing studies have focused on early spatial language development and education in Englishspeaking children, leaving Chinese preschoolers understudied. This research aims to fill this gap by conducting four sequential and interrelated corpus-based studies on early spatial language produced by the 192 Chinese preschoolers in the Early Childhood Mandarin Corpus (Li & Tse, 2011).
Study One investigated the developmental patterns and family predictors of the early spatial terms elicited from the Corpus. A five-domain spatial semantic categories (SSC) was developed and implemented in data analysis. The results indicated that the participants produced altogether 6455 tokens of spatial terms covering all the five domains of SSC, with motion event terms as the most frequently used one; there was a significant age effect, but no significant gender difference; and home language environment (i.e., bookshelf availability) and parent-child shared reading/storytelling significantly predicted early spatial language production. Study Two explored the spatial frames of reference (FoRs) adopted by the Chinese preschoolers to encode static spatial information during the toy-play context. Altogether 2837 static spatial sentences were identified from the corpus, and 785 of them used FoRs thus, were analyzed using the 7-class FoRs coding system developed for this study. The results indicated that most of the FoRs were used by the children to communicate static spatial information, except for the Absolute Reference (AR); and there was a stable and consistent pattern of FoRs allocation by age, and the most frequently used was Object-Centered Reference (OCR). Study Three examined children's expression of motion events to communicate the dynamic spatial information in a toy-play context. Altogether 1683 utterances about motion events were identified from the Corpus. The results indicated a significant age difference in motion events production, utterance density, and lexical diversity. A milestone for thinking and communicating caused motion events (CME) was observed around the age of 4.5. And fathers’ accompany time with the child and TV viewing under parents’ guidance were found the positive predictors for early motion events production. Study Four examined young children’s pragmatic use of Chinese localizer ‘shang (上)’ in the toy-play context. The results revealed that the children could produce four types of physical space (including the meaning of supporting, attaching, positioning, and containing), whereas the two types of psychological space were not used. The interchangeable use of the localizers 'shang (上, on)’ and ‘li (里, in)’ by these preschoolers was also explored.
This thesis adds to the limited literature about early spatial language production in Chinese preschoolers. It has developed and implemented a set of coding systems for Chinese studies and has preliminarily explored the developmental patterns and family predictors of early spatial language. These findings provide a foundation for future studies on the interplay between early spatial language and spatial cognition. And the empirical evidence could contribute to the development and improvement of early childhood education in Chinese contexts.