Dissertation > Language, writing > FOREIGN > English > Grammar

An Investigation of the Acquisition of English Middle Construction by Chinese L2 Learners

Author HanBaiJing
Tutor WuHePing
School Northwest Normal University
Course Curriculum and Pedagogy
Keywords middle construction middle formation L2 acquisition semantics frequency L1 transfer
CLC H314
Type Master's thesis
Year 2010
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Middle construction (MC) has been a hotly studied and debated topic in recent decades. Due to its unique syntactic and semantic features, English MC has been proved to be a hard nut to crack for L2 learners. This study aims to investigate the acquisition pattern of it by Chinese L2 learners and explore the underlying determinants of such a pattern.Given the inadequacies of the available semantic constraints on English MF, the present study firstly, mainly based on the Proto-Roles Hypothesis, proposes a set of uniform and applicable semantic conditions, namely the Attributee Condition, the Aspectual Condition, the Pre-existence Condition, the Strong Volitional Condition and the Adverbial Condition.Then, the five conditions on MF, as well as five subclasses of MC are contrastively analyzed between English and Chinese. It reveals that the Pre-existence Condition and the Strong Volitional Condition only operate in English, but not in Chinese. Contrarily, Chinese has fewer Ergative MCs and Experiencer MCs though Chinese MC is more productive in general. Compared with Oblique MC, the subjects of Instrument MC are of stronger Agent-resemblance, while Theme MC is the subclass which is used more frequently. Concerning the comparison between Ergative MC and Experiencer MC, the verbs of the former type are superior in syntactic diversity (treated as frequency), but the verbs of the latter manifest more tolerance in selecting non-agent roles as subjects.The empirical study shows that the acquisition of English MC is positively correlated with general language proficiency on the whole. But intermediate learners are more likely to wrongly accept middles against the conditions but correctly accept Oblique MC. It is argued that such contradictive behaviors result from a common tendency for intermediate learners to hold an open attitude towards the items in doubts.The empirical results also suggest that semantics, frequency and L1 transfer impact the acquisition apparently. Both semantics and frequency facilitate language acquisition much. The items of stronger semantic guidance (e.g. Instrument MC) and higher frequency (e.g. Theme MC and Ergative MC) are easier to acquire. But it’s hard to claim which factor helps more after all. Because the better acquisition of Instrument MC than of Theme MC indicates that semantic guidance facilitates more than frequency, but the better performance on Ergative MC than on Experiencer MC points to the opposite. Indeed, these two factors are not mutually exclusive. However, it’s clear that low-level learners are not so sensitive to the semantics as more advanced ones, since Experiencer MC is acquired significantly worse by low-level learners than by intermediate and advanced ones.Language transfer also works in the acquisition of English MC by Chinese learners. Those items that are cross-linguistically different are difficult to acquire for L2 learners. Interestingly, the present study shows that the Pre-existence Condition is significantly harder for Chinese learners to acquire, but the Strong Volitional Condition not. It indicates that the different underlying organizational principles of language (e.g. the Pre-existence Condition) cause greater difficulty for L2 learners than the explicit cross-language differences (e.g. the Strong Volitional Condition) do. It is assumed that learners fail to notice the underlying differences since they are inert or implicit, while the explicit differences are prominent enough to be recognized and acquired.

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