Interlanguage: Activity 2

Acquisition of null elements

Some interlanguage rules are formed when the native language and target language rule systems differ. For example, a subject or object is sometimes missing in a Chinese sentence where it must be supplied in English (Li & Thompson, 1981). The following example shows that both the subject “我(I)” and the object “冰淇淋 (ice cream)” are omitted in the response, a pattern which is not grammatically acceptable in English.

A: 你想吃冰淇淋吗?(You want eat ice cream MA*)?
B: 想吃(want eat). *MA = a question marker

The missing subject and object, called null elements in Chinese, which are important and unique features of Chinese, may be a potential learning obstacle for English speaking learners, who may try to transfer English patterns into their Chinese. In a study of adult English speakers learning Chinese as a L2, Jin (1994) suggested that English-speaking learners tend to overproduce subjects and objects in Chinese at first (initially transferring this pattern from English) and gradually learn to drop them as their proficiency increases.

In the first table below, we list all the cases in Jiulin’s Interview task when he either overproduces or deletes subjects and objects. We highlight the cases of overproduction. In the second table, we add the deleted subjects or objects, highlighted and in brackets.

Is there a pattern in Jiulin’s interlanguage use of null elements? If yes, what is it? 

Jiulin’s Interview
Line No. Overproduction of subjects or objects
12 但是我,我在以前的大学,学西班牙文
34-36 但是,嗯,每次我想说西班牙文,就, 嗯, 想起来中文

In each of the above cases, it’s acceptable to either drop the first subject or the second. For convenience, we mark the second subject consistently.

Jiulin’s Interview
Line No. Deletion of subjects or objects
8 嗯,()会说英文
14 但是转学以后,我开始学中文,因为()觉得可能以后,嗯,对, 对我有好处,嗯,还有()觉得那个机会,嗯,学中文
28 )学过(西班牙文
30 嗯,()学过两年(西班牙文
36 所以,嗯,()真的不会说西班牙文
38 但是,嗯,()学好中文以后,()可能再,再学西班牙文
52 他们)不说(英文
84 因为,嗯,(西班牙文)分享跟,跟英文很多,嗯,意大,拉丁文
92 所以,嗯,()学西班牙的时候,()不用,嗯,那么多机会说,嗯,可以因为,()可以应该,可以,嗯,听录音
102 我不太知道,嗯,()觉得中文课的时候,不用很多,嗯,选择机会,机会
106 但是,嗯,()觉得跟西班牙和英文差不多一样
134 自从开始,从()开始学中文的时候,嗯,以来,我跟语言伙伴
172 可是,嗯,()不会说太多了
192 )还没看过(中文电影
198 我看过(成龙的电影
220 我很喜欢(成龙的电影

Please type your answers to the questions in the box below.

When you have finished typing your answer, click to compare your response with the Learner Language staff response.

In Jiulin’s Interview task, there seems to be a mixture of overproduction and deletion of subjects and objects, but in general, he tends to delete them substantially more often than he overproduces them. In many cases, he deletes subjects and objects as native Chinese would do, for example in lines 8 and 28. But in others, he deletes subjects in contexts where native Chinese would have kept them, as in line 84. This pattern of over-deletion is not likely due to English transfer, since in English subjects would be supplied in this context. His over-deletion of subjects here may be due to overgeneralization, a pattern which is typical of learner language.


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