Information Encoding, Mandarin Chinese Word Order and CSLA: A Cognitive-Functional Account

  • Anna MorbiatoEmail author
Part of the Educational Linguistics book series (EDUL, volume 31)


The present paper provides a comprehensive overview of the role of word order as a linguistic device in information encoding and management in Mandarin Chinese (henceforth Chinese). Specifically, it investigates its functions from a cross-linguistic perspective in order to identify acquisitional difficulties for Chinese L2 learners. The factors that contribute to shaping word order are explored and discussed, providing reference to relevant research conducted over the past decades; evidence from neurolinguistic and corpus-based studies is also provided, along with the results of a preliminary study conducted on MA Italian L1 learners of Chinese as a second language, which contributes to grounding theoretical claims on more solid empirical data. The analysis suggests that word order is a major area of interest in Chinese as a Second Language Acquisition (CSLA) because (1) it encodes functions pertaining to different linguistic domains (semantic, syntactic, discourse-pragmatic, cognitive etc.), thus displaying a high functional load; (2) due to L1 transfer, the complex interplay of all word order functions entails acquisition difficulties, especially for students whose L1 is morpho-syntactically richer (like Italian); and (3) a clear and comprehensive function-to-form mapping, accounting for L1-L2 differences and for positive and negative L1 transfer, can be an effective tool in CSLA practice. Moreover, discourse and conceptual aspects provide interesting insights for Chinese language teaching.

This work aims to contribute to CSLA as a growing area of research, in that it seeks to fill the gap between Chinese linguistic inquiry and teaching practice by showing the applicability of research findings to Chinese pedagogy. Secondly, it provides a comprehensive overview of the key factors that contribute to shaping Chinese linear order, which have often been investigated separately, resulting in partial and less effective accounts of the issue. Lastly, it hopes to be a reference tool both for SLA researchers and teachers, as it highlights possible difficulties in interlanguage development and suggests further research avenues.



The author would like to acknowledge the support of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney through the provision of the 2017 CSC Research Students Support Grant.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of East Asian and African StudiesCa’ Foscari University of VeniceVeniceItaly
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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