• Interpretation of Bare and Demonstrative Noun Phrases in the Acquisition of Mandarin

    Hsiang-Hua Melanie Chang (see profile)
    LSL General Linguistics, TM Language Theory
    Chinese language
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    Mandarin nominals may appear bare or non-bare in various positions with different interpretations. Questions arise as to how Mandarin-speaking children interpret bare nominals, given that bare nominals can have various interpretations. On the other hand, how do they interpret non-bare nominals, such as demonstrative nominals? This experimental study tested the interpretation of nominals among Mandarin-speaking children and adults and found that nominal types and age have significant effects on interpretation. The findings include the following. (i) Children distinguish between bare and demonstrative nominals by assigning more generic interpretations to bare nominals. (ii) Children, like adults, have both generic and existential definite readings for bare nominal subjects. (iii) A clear discrepancy exists between children’s and adults’ interpretation of demonstrative nominals. Children assigned a considerable amount of generic interpretation to Mandarin demonstrative nominals, which lack such readings in adult grammar. With respect to the non-target generic reading of demonstratives, individual analysis was conducted to further examine this finding. Via such analysis, correlations were found between the generic reading for demonstratives and that for bare nominals, which suggests that those assigning more generic reading to demonstrative nominals are more likely to assign this reading to bare nominals. In addition, as part of the experimental design, two variables are found to play a role in the interpretation of nominals: the presentation order of nominals and a property of the predicates. The overall findings accord with the research hypothesis and predictions based on the Nominal Mapping Parameter, the Semantic Subset Principle, and other studies.
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