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Interface conditions in child language: a view from Mandarin Chinese
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 20:21 authored by Peng Zhou
Knowing a language includes knowledge of several basic components - syntax, semantics, pragmatics and phonology. Each of these components has its own properties, but they also interact with one another. The interactions between these different levels of linguistic knowledge are called interface conditions. In recent years, the study of interface conditions has attracted increasing interest in both theoretical linguistics and psycholinguistics, since knowing how different linguistic representations interact is crucial to understanding how the language processing system operates in the human brain. This thesis by publication investigates the interface conditions as they are manifested in child language. Specifically, we look at how different levels of linguistic knowledge contribute to children's interpretation of three interface phenomena: focus interpretation, wh-quantification and scope assignment. The investigation of each interface phenomenon centres on the following questions. (i) What's the nature of linguistic representations underlying children's understanding of this interface phenomenon? (ii) To what extent do these representations differ from those of adults? (iii) What developmental processes underlie the differences between children and adults? Data from child Mandarin is reported to address these questions. Mandarin Chinese has some special properties, which are less observable in most other languages. This makes Mandarin particularly insightful for evaluating certain aspects of language development, including interface conditions. The reasons for this will be explained throughout the thesis. The thesis is structured as follows. Chapter 1 provides the introduction. Chapter 2 looks at focus identification in child Mandarin, concentrating on whether children adhere to syntactic constraints in computing the meanings of focus structures. Chapter 3 explores the role of prosody in the resolution of ambiguities by Mandarin-speaking children, focusing on children's use of phonological information (i.e., pitch accent and intonation) to arrive at an adult-like interpretation. Chapter 4 examines wh-quantification in child Mandarin, focusing on whether children are sensitive to the licensing environments for the non-interrogative use focusing on whether Mandarin-speaking children access both interpretations for sentences with a universal quantifier and negation. Chapter 6 summarizes the major findings of these studies and discusses their implications for current issues in the field of language acquisition.