Chinese Children’s Knowledge of Topicalization: Experimental Evidence from a Comprehension Study

Shenai Hu, Maria Teresa Guasti, Anna Gavarró

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

© 2018, The Author(s). There is a debate as to whether topic structures in Chinese involve A’-movement or result from base-generation of the topic in the left periphery. If Chinese topicalization was derived by movement, under the assumptions of Friedmann et al.’s Relativized Minimality (Lingua 119:67–88, 2009), we would expect children’s comprehension of object topicalization (with OSV order) to be worse than their comprehension of subject topicalization (with SVO order). This study examined 146 Mandarin-speaking children from age three to age six by means of a picture-sentence matching task with an appropriate context. The results showed a subject/object asymmetry when the topic marker is overt, and no asymmetry when the topic marker is covert. This suggests that the presence or absence of topic markers play an important role in children’s comprehension of topicalization. We propose that both structures involve movement in the adult grammar, but not in the child grammar, at least initially. Sentences without overt topic markers are base-generated on a par with gapless sentences with a topic, and the base-generation analysis is abandoned as soon as children learn the syntax and semantics of topic markers, which function as attractors of topics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1279-1300
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Volume47
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018

Keywords

  • Base-generation analysis
  • Child acquisition
  • Chinese topicalization
  • Movement analysis
  • Topic marker

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