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Functional Word Acquisition in Mandarin Chinese  

Xiaolu Yang

Functional categories carry little or no semantic content by themselves and contribute crucially to sentence structure. In the generative framework, they are assumed to mark and head functional projections in the basic hierarchical structure underlying each phrase or sentence. Given their intertwining with grammar, child language researchers have long been attracted by the development of functional categories. To a child, it is important to differentiate functional categories from lexical categories and relate each of them to the hidden hierarchical structure of the phrase or sentence. The learning of a functional category is no easy task and implies the development of different dimensions of linguistic knowledge, including the lexical realization of the functional category in the ambient language, the specific grammatical function it serves, the abstract underlying structure, and the semantic properties of the associated structure. A central issue in the acquisition of functional categories concerns whether children have access to functional categories early in language development. Differing accounts have been proposed. According to the maturational view, functional categories are absent in children’s initial grammar and mature later. In contrast to the maturational view is the continuity view, which assumes children’s continuous access to functional categories throughout language development. Cross-linguistic evidence from production and experimental studies has been accumulated in support of the continuity hypothesis. Mandarin Chinese has a rich inventory of function words, though it lacks overt inflectional markers. De, aspect markers, ba, and sentence final particles are among the most commonly used function words and play a fundamental role in sentence structure in Mandarin Chinese in that they are functional categories that head various functional projections in the hierarchical structure. Acquisition studies show that these function words emerge early in development and children’s use of these function words is mostly target-like, offering evidence for the continuity view of functional categories as well as insights into child grammar in Mandarin Chinese.


Hmong-Mien Languages  

David R. Mortensen

Hmong-Mien (also known as Miao-Yao) is a bipartite family of minority languages spoken primarily in China and mainland Southeast Asia. The two branches, called Hmongic and Mienic by most Western linguists and Miao and Yao by Chinese linguists, are both compact groups (phylogenetically if not geographically). Although they are uncontroversially distinct from one another, they bear a strong mutual affinity. But while their internal relationships are reasonably well established, there is no unanimity regarding their wider genetic affiliations, with many Chinese scholars insisting on Hmong-Mien membership in the Sino-Tibetan superfamily, some Western scholars suggesting a relationship to Austronesian and/or Tai-Kradai, and still others suggesting a relationship to Mon-Khmer. A plurality view appears to be that Hmong-Mien bears no special relationship to any surviving language family. Hmong-Mien languages are typical—in many respects—of the non-Sino-Tibetan languages of Southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. However, they possess a number of properties that make them stand out. Many neighboring languages are tonal, but Hmong-Mien languages are, on average, more so (in terms of the number of tones). While some other languages in the area have small-to-medium consonant inventories, Hmong-Mien languages (and especially Hmongic languages) often have very large consonant inventories with rare classes of sounds like uvulars and voiceless sonorants. Furthermore, while many of their neighbors are morphologically isolating, few language groups display as little affixation as Hmong-Mien languages. They are largely head-initial, but they deviate from this generalization in their genitive-noun constructions and their relative clauses (which vary in position and structure, sometimes even within the same language).