Second Language Acquisition at Interfaces: A Study of the Word Order Variation in the Chinese Nominal Domain

Abstract

This study is aimed to re-examine the Interface Hypothesis via investigating the adult L2 acquisition of the word order variation of numeral classifier indefinites at the syntax–semantics and syntax–discourse interfaces in L2 Chinese. A computerized acceptability judgment task was administered to 41 advanced and intermediate adult Korean learners of Chinese to collect data in accuracy and reaction times. For accuracy, it was found that the advanced L2 learners have not acquired the target phenomenon to a native-like level and did not score significantly higher than the intermediate L2 learners at both the syntax–semantics and syntax–discourse interfaces. For reaction times, while no significant differences were reported between the syntax–semantics and syntax–discourse interface items for the advanced L2 learners, developmental progress was observed on the syntax–semantics but not the syntax–discourse interface phenomenon. The findings suggest that the internal versus external interface dichotomy should not suffice to account for the acquisition difficulty and processing costs of different linguistic properties in L2 acquisition.

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Acknowledgements

We sincerely thank the anonymous reviewer for all the constructive comments. We also much appreciate Dr. Cai Hongwen for his assistance in data collection and analysis. Special thanks go to Mr. Gao Xuefeng, who contributed a lot to program designing. All remaining errors are ours.

Funding

This study was supported by the following grants: Internal Research Grant 2017–2018, The Education University of Hong Kong (RG29/2017-2018R); Departmental Research Grant 2015–2016, Department of Chinese Language Studies, The Education University of Hong Kong (reference number not applicable); Internal Research Grant 2015–2016, The Education University of Hong Kong (RG45/15-16R).

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Correspondence to Jing Jin.

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All procedures performed in the study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee, i.e., Human Research Ethics Committee of The Education University of Hong Kong (Ref. no.: 2017-2018-0150; Ref. no.: 2015-2016-0269; Ref. no:. 2014-2015-0145), and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Appendix: Sample Items of the Online Computerized Listening Acceptability Judgment Task

Appendix: Sample Items of the Online Computerized Listening Acceptability Judgment Task

[The English translation in “context information on the screen” below was not presented on the screen in the experiment and is provided here for readers’ reference].

  1. 1.

    Non-CT context, i-level modifier, IMN order

Context information on the screen: B刚从蛋糕店回来 (‘B just came back from the bakery.’)
A: ni mai le shenme?     
  you buy prf what     
  ‘What did you buy?’     
B: wo mai le liang ge xiangjiao-wei de dangao
  I buy prf two cl banana-flavor de cake
  ‘I bought two banana-flavored cakes.’ 【acceptable】
  1. 2.

    Non-CT context, i-level modifier, OMN order

Context information on the screen: A和B在讨论做手工 (‘A and B are talking about DIY.’)
A: ni xiang zuo shenme dongxi?    
  you want make what thing    
  ‘What would you like to make?’    
B: wo xiang zuo mutou de liang ge hezi
  I want make wood de two cl box
  Intended: ‘I would like to make two wooden boxes.’【unacceptable】
  1. 3.

    Non-CT context, s-level modifier, IMN order

Context information on the screen: A和B在讨论班里的新年活动 (‘A and B are talking about the New Year activities in the class.’)
A: zhe ge huodong hui you laoshi canjia ma?
  this cl activity will have teacher attend q
  ‘Will any teachers attend this activity?’
B: liang wei xin lai de laoshi hui canjia
  two cl newly come de teacher will attend
  ‘Two teachers who newly came will attend.’【acceptable】
  1. 4.

    Non-CT context, s-level modifier, OMN order

Context information on the screen: A和B在讨论班里的新年活动 (‘A and B are talking about the New Year activities in the class.’)
A: zhe ge huodong hui you laoshi canjia ma?
  this cl activity will have teacher attend q
  ‘Will any teachers attend this activity?’
B: xin lai de liang wei laoshi hui canjia
  newly come de two cl teacher will attend
  ‘Two teachers who newly came will attend.’【acceptable】
  1. 5.

    CT context, i-level modifier, IMN order

Context information on the screen: B的班上来了四个新同学, 其中两个会说韩语, 两个会说法语 (‘There are four new students joining B’ class, among whom two can speak Korean and two can speak French.’)
A: ni he zhe si ge xin tongxue yiqi chi guo fan ma?
  you and this four cl new student together eat exp rice q
  ‘Have you had meals with these four new students?’
B: wo zhi he liang ge hui shuo hanyu de tongxue chi guo
  I only and two cl can speak Korean de student eat exp
  ‘I have only had meals with two students who can speak Korean.’ 【acceptable】
  1. 6.

    CT context, i-level modifier, OMN order

Context information on the screen: A和B看到四个女生, 其中两个是长头发, 两个是短头发 (‘A and B saw four girls, among whom two are long-haired and two are short-haired.’)
A: zhe si ge nüsheng ni quan dou renshi ma?
  this four cl girl you total all know q?
  ‘Do you know all of these four girls?’
B: bu, wo zhi renshi chang-toufa de liang ge nüsheng
  no I only know long-hair de two cl girl
  ‘No, I only know two long-haired girls.’ 【acceptable】
  1. 7.

    CT context, s-level modifier, IMN order

Context information on the screen: 班里有四位老师, 其中有两位是新来的 (‘There are four teachers in the class, among whom two are new.’)
A: ni he zhe si wei laoshi shi-bu-shi dou hen shu?  
  you and this four cl teacher be-not-be all very familiar  
  ‘Are you familiar with all of these four teachers?’
B: bu, wo he liang wei xin lai de laoshi bu shu
  no I and two cl newly come de teacher not familiar
  ‘No, I am not familiar with two teachers who newly came.’【acceptable】
  1. 8.

    CT context, s-level modifier, OMN order

Context information on the screen: A和B在餐厅点了四杯咖啡, 其中两杯有糖, 两杯没有糖 (‘A and B ordered four cups of coffee in the restaurant, two with sugar and two sugar-free.’)
A: zhe si bei kafei jiage yiyang ma?    
  this four cup.cl coffee price same q    
  ‘Are these four cups of coffee of the same price?’    
B: bu yiyang, you tang de liang bei kafei gui yixie
  not same have sugar de two cup.cl coffee expensive some
  ‘Not the same; two cups of coffee with sugar are a little more expensive.’ 【acceptable】
  1. 9.

    Filler

Context information on the screen: A找B借钱 (‘A is borrowing money from B.’)
A: ni neng jie dian qian gei wo ma?
  you can borrow a.little money to me q
  ‘Could you borrow me a little money?’
B: wo qian zuijin ye mei you   
  I money recently also not have   
  Intended: ‘I have also had no money recently.’【unacceptable】

Abbreviations in glossaries: CL classifier, DE modifier marker de, EXP experiential aspectual marker, PRF perfective aspectual marker, Q question marker.

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Jin, J., Ke, S. Second Language Acquisition at Interfaces: A Study of the Word Order Variation in the Chinese Nominal Domain. J Psycholinguist Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-020-09707-6

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Keywords

  • Interface Hypothesis
  • Word order
  • Nominal phrase
  • L2 Chinese