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The University of Southampton
Centre for Linguistics, Language Education and Acquisition Research

Learning pronoun interpretation in Chinese L2

Published: 15 November 2017

Professor Roumyana Slabakova has secured research funding from the Confucius Institute. The study will be carried out at the University of Southampton in collaboration with PhD student Elina Tuniyan and MLang student Lewis Baker. The study investigates the interpretation of overt and unpronounced (null) pronouns in Mandarin Chinese as a second language. In a specific Mandarin construction, the overt pronoun and the null pronoun refer to different discourse antecedents. It has been discovered that 5-year-old monolingual Mandarin children were above 80% accurate on the null pronoun (comparable to a full noun phrase in the same position) while they were only 37% accurate on the overt pronoun ta. Linguistic theory offers an elegant explanation of this fact, in line with additional acquisition findings from other languages. We hypothesize that what is difficult for Mandarin children will also be difficult for learners of Mandarin as a second language. But teachers of Mandarin do not know that pronouns are a challenge to interpret. If our hypothesis is confirmed, we will create teaching presentations and exercises explaining how to practice this difficult grammatical feature in the Chinese classroom.

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