The meaning of question words in statements in child Mandarin

Stephen Crain, Peng Zhou

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This paper reports the findings of three experiments investigating children’s emerging knowledge of the semantics of information-seeking questions and declarative statements in Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin is particularly revealing about the semantic relationship between questions and statements, because it is a wh-in-situ language where question words appear in the same surface syntactic position in both questions and statements. The non-interrogative meanings that Mandarin-speaking children assign to question words lend weight to a unified approach to the semantics of existential expressions, including Free Choice Expressions, Negative Polarity Items, and disjunction words. When Mandarin question words appear in statements, children interpret them to be the semantic equivalents of existential expressions. The findings, therefore, support the unified approach to the semantics of existential expressions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSemantics in language acquisition
EditorsKristen Syrett, Sudha Arunachalam
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9789027263605
ISBN (Print)9789027201379
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameTrends in language acquisition research
ISSN (Print)1569-0644


  • questions
  • English
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • statements
  • existential expressions
  • child language acquisition

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  • Cite this

    Crain, S., & Zhou, P. (2018). The meaning of question words in statements in child Mandarin. In K. Syrett, & S. Arunachalam (Eds.), Semantics in language acquisition (Vol. 24, pp. 249–274). (Trends in language acquisition research; Vol. 24). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.