Chinese-speaking adults' understanding of argument structure

Abstract

Syntactic constructions roughly correspond to sentence meanings. Previous research has shown that Chinese children can associate an SVO construction with a causative event at age 2, but do not always map an SV construction to a non-causative event even after reaching 5 years of age. The latter results may be attributed to the fact that Chinese allows argument-dropping (Jiang & Haryu, 2010). This paper investigated Chinese adults’ syntax-semantics knowledge and found that even adults do not always map an intransitive construction to a non-causative event, although they are likely to use an intransitive construction to describe a non-causative event. The results suggest that although Chinese adults understand that causative and non-causative events should typically be described using transitive and intransitive constructions, respectively, the use of this knowledge in inferring novel verb meanings seems to be regulated by the actual usage of SV sentences in Chinese.


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