Acquisition of the numerical wh-pronoun ji 'how many' in Mandarin Chinese

Aijun Huang, Stephen Crain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Mandarin Chinese wh-pronouns are often analyzed as Negative Polarity Items (NPIs). The present study shows that Chinese wh-pronouns are not uniformly interpreted as NPIs. We focus on the interpretation of the wh-pronoun ji-ge 'how many-Classifier', which gives rise to a different interpretation in simple negative statements, which we call the 'small-amount' reading. To explain the availability of the 'small-amount' reading, we propose that ji-ge functions as both a singular existential quantifier and as a plural existential quantifier. When ji-ge is singular, it receives what we call a 'proform-N' reading. When ji-ge is plural, it either receives an 'at least two' reading or an 'a few' reading, depending on the linguistic context. On the proposed analysis, ji-ge is assigned the 'at least two' reading in simple negative statements, and the 'small-amount' reading is derived through a conversational implicature. To investigate the acquisition of these various readings of the wh-pronoun ji-ge, we conducted a comprehension study using simple negative statements. We found that children proceed through three developmental stages, each stage corresponding to different meanings of ji-ge. In two of the three stages, children assign non-adult interpretations, suggesting that children's analyses are not entirely determined by the linguistic input. This study sheds new light on the semantics of wh-pronouns in Mandarin Chinese.

LanguageEnglish
Pages122-140
Number of pages19
JournalLingua
Volume145
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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interpretation
linguistics
Pronoun
Mandarin Chinese
comprehension
semantics
Existential Quantifiers
Negative Polarity Items
Developmental Stages
Classifier
Conversational Implicatures
Proform
Linguistic Context

Cite this

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title = "Acquisition of the numerical wh-pronoun ji 'how many' in Mandarin Chinese",
abstract = "Mandarin Chinese wh-pronouns are often analyzed as Negative Polarity Items (NPIs). The present study shows that Chinese wh-pronouns are not uniformly interpreted as NPIs. We focus on the interpretation of the wh-pronoun ji-ge 'how many-Classifier', which gives rise to a different interpretation in simple negative statements, which we call the 'small-amount' reading. To explain the availability of the 'small-amount' reading, we propose that ji-ge functions as both a singular existential quantifier and as a plural existential quantifier. When ji-ge is singular, it receives what we call a 'proform-N' reading. When ji-ge is plural, it either receives an 'at least two' reading or an 'a few' reading, depending on the linguistic context. On the proposed analysis, ji-ge is assigned the 'at least two' reading in simple negative statements, and the 'small-amount' reading is derived through a conversational implicature. To investigate the acquisition of these various readings of the wh-pronoun ji-ge, we conducted a comprehension study using simple negative statements. We found that children proceed through three developmental stages, each stage corresponding to different meanings of ji-ge. In two of the three stages, children assign non-adult interpretations, suggesting that children's analyses are not entirely determined by the linguistic input. This study sheds new light on the semantics of wh-pronouns in Mandarin Chinese.",
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Acquisition of the numerical wh-pronoun ji 'how many' in Mandarin Chinese. / Huang, Aijun; Crain, Stephen.

In: Lingua, Vol. 145, 2014, p. 122-140.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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