Putting Object Before or After Verb the Acquisition of VO and OV Word Orders in Mandarin Chinese


Mandarin Chinese canonically uses SVO word order. However, a definite object can precede the verb, yielding OV order. While previous studies have established SVO order as Mandarin-speaking children�s earliest and most frequent, little research has explored how they acquire OV order. The current study investigated this acquisition by analyzing Mandarin-speaking children�s OV utterances. We analyzed 40 children�s spontaneous speech from the CHILDES Mandarin corpus; ten children in each of four age groups: 14-, 20-, 26-, and 32-month-olds. Qualified utterances (i.e., containing at least one verb) were coded for word order: VO (SVO, VO), OV (BaOV, OV, OSV; SOV was excluded due to no occurrence), and Other. Frequencies were recast as percentages (of the total qualified utterances). Compared to VO production, which appeared frequently from 20 months on (14%-24%), OV utterances emerged later. While both BaOV and OSV have only sporadic occurrences in 26- and 32-month-olds, pure OV utterances grew significantly from 26 months on. By 32 months, children used OV at adult levels (3.73% vs. 3.88%). Further analyses reveal that the objects used in all OV utterances followed the definiteness constraint (e.g., definite nouns/demonstratives), and that the variety of verb types grew with age (i.e., extending from action verbs to perception/experience/cognition/emotion verbs). Appropriate verbal complements and/or aspect markers co-occurred with these verbs to make well-formed OV utterances. In sum, Mandarin-speaking children acquire OV frame later than VO frame, but they can produce OV utterances much like adults before age three, supporting that grammatical competence is accomplished quickly in young children.

Author Information
Ya-Ching Yeh, University of Connecticut, United States
Letitia Naigles, University of Connecticut, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ECLL2014
Stream: First language acquisition

This paper is part of the ECLL2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon