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The acquisition of aspect markers by Mandarin-speaking children

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Author Shu, Kun-Lin.
Broad Subject Language and linguistics
Summary This study investigates Mandarin-speaking children's acquisition and use of aspect markers. Aspect differs from tense in important ways: Tense locates the time of an event relative to the moment of speaking.Aspect concerns a speaker's view of a situation as static, dynamic, ongoing, durative, completed or non-completed. Aspect-marking is more prominent in Chinese grammar than in English. Chinese marks tense and aspect separately with temporal adverbials and aspect markers. There is extensive prior research on tense, but few studies of the acquisition of aspect.

The major Chinese aspect markers are the perfective marker le , progressive marker zai4, durative marker zhe, and experiential marker guo4. Data analyzed include 16,688 utterances produced by 10 Mandarin-speaking toddlers in the CHILDES database, in conversations with caregivers. An additional 6207 utterances were collected from 48 children in Taiwan, ages 3, 4, 5, and 9, who completed picture-description and narrative tasks.

Results indicate that the perfective aspect marker le is acquired first in Chinese, whereas the progressive -ing is acquired first in English. The acquisition order of aspect markers was perfective aspect le > imperfective durative zhe > imperfective progressive zai4. However, there were individual differences in acquisition. In early conversation, younger children used the perfective le (84%) more frequently than the durative zhe (10.1%), the progressive zai4 (4.1%) and the experiential guo4 (1.8%). They gradually acquired the different meanings of the homophonic word le and used it for different functions, such as the sentence-final particle le and the perfective aspect marker le; the homophonic word zai4 for different functions, such as the locative preposition zai4, adverbial zai4 and the progressive aspect marker zai4.

In picture-description, younger children used more progressive zai4 than older children. There was also a significant difference between the use of progressive zai4 in picture-description and storytelling. In narratives, as children's ages increased, the frequency of aspect markers increased except for the progressive zai4. This study describes the order of acquisition of aspect markers by Mandarin-speaking children and further reveals that as children mature, there is a developmental change in their use of aspect markers innarratives.

Language English
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