CHILDREN’S USE OF PROSODY IN RESOLVING A SYNTACTIC AMBIGUITY ASSOCIATED WITH ONLY: EVIDENCE FROM MANDARIN
Yanfei Li/ Cheongju University, Xiaoxiao Wang, Honglei Niu, Yong-cheol Lee/ Liaocheng University
This study examined the age at which Mandarin-speaking children can resolve a syntactic ambiguity associated with the focus particle zhi ‘only’ in an adult-like way by means of prosody. It tested eight age groups, from three-year-olds to ten-year-olds, by having the children perform a picture-choice task. They were asked to identify the picture that correctly illustrated the intended meaning of an ambiguous sentence served by prosody. Results showed that the NP closer to the focus particle was resolved earlier, likely due to proximity or limited working memory. Furthermore, this type of ambiguity exhibited a very late acquired phenomenon: only ten-year-olds showed an adult-like performance in the resolution of the ambiguity. The results of this study support the view (Singh and Fu 2016) that, due to the interaction between tone and intonation, a tone language is acquired more slowly than a non-tone language.
Key words: prosodic resolution, syntactic ambiguity, children, Mandarin