When an Adjective Behaves like a Verb: Adjectival Verbs in Mandarin Chinese Maternal Input


The distinction between adjectives and verbs in Mandarin Chinese is not as clear as that in English. Adjectives in Mandarin share more similarities than differences with verbs, and most of them may function as verbs (Tang, 2012; Chu, 2010). Thus, they are termed adjectival verbs, which are translated into adjectives in English (e.g., zhe4hai2zhi cong1ming2, ‘this kid smart’) (Li & Thompson, 1981; Ross & Ma, 2006). . Previous studies on Mandarin caregivers’ vocabulary have focused on action verbs (e.g., Tardif, 1996). Little attention has been paid to the production of adjectival verbs. Based on the 8 similarities and 2 differences selected from Tang (2012), the current study investigated how these properties are distributed in Mandarin-speaking mothers’ adjectival verb use. Our analyses of 40 mothers’ utterances containing adjectival verbs found that not all properties were evenly distributed. Some properties appeared with greater frequency and some with less. Some properties had either rare occurrences or none. Scrutiny of such an uneven distribution revealed an association between frequency and grammatical complexity: Properties with greater frequency are the basic grammatical function of verbs (i.e., appearing as a predicate with/without subject). And less frequent properties (e.g., using negation and V-not-V form, adding degree adverbs, and bringing aspect marker ‘le’) and infrequent properties (e.g., bringing a variety of complements) are more advanced functions, which are more complex grammatically. These results suggest potential roles played by frequency and grammatical complexity in the maternal input to Mandarin-speaking children when they acquire adjectival verbs.

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

Paper Information
Conference: NACP2014
Stream: Linguistics

This paper is part of the NACP2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon