Acquisition of the Mandarin ba-Construction by Cantonese Learners



Yang Yike


Work Unit:

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China


Vol.8 No.1 (Serial No.12) 2020






Optionality, defined as the coexistence of two or more variants of a given construction, has been investigated in second language studies. Following the notion of optionality, this study defines the Mandarin ba-construction and its corresponding non-ba-forms as optional variants to examine Cantonese-speaking learners’ acquisition of Mandarin. We designed an elicited production task and an acceptability judgement task to test the disposal and locational displacement types of the ba-construction, and invited Cantonese learners and Mandarin native speakers to attend the experiments. The Cantonese learners, like learners with other language backgrounds, produced fewer ba-sentences compared with native speakers, but the Cantonese learners produced much more ba-sentences than learners with other language backgrounds and were aware of the constraints on the ba-construction, which is probably due to the existence of the similar zoeng-construction in Cantonese. Although at an advanced level, the performance of the Cantonese learners diverged from that of the native speakers in both the production and the judgement, which demonstrates the existence of optionality in the Cantonese learners’ interlanguage grammars.

Key Words:

acquisition, second language, optionality, Mandarin, ba-construction


doi: 10.26478/ja2020.8.12.6


Adjemian, C. 1976. On the Nature of Interlanguage System [J]. Language Learning, 26(2):297-320.
Bates, D., M. Mächler, B. Bolker & S. Walker. 2015. Fitting Linear Mixed-Effects Models Using lme4 [J]. Journal of Statistical Software, 67(1):1-48.
Bender, E. 2000. The Syntax of Mandarin ba: Reconsidering the verbal analysis [J]. Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 9(2):105-145.
Birdsong, D. 1989. Metalinguistic Performance and Interlinguistic Competence [M]. Berlin: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Birdsong, D. 1992. Ultimate Attainment in Second Language Acquisition [J]. Language, 68(4):706-755.
Chang, X-F. 1998. A Comprehensive Analysis of the ba-Construction in Mandarin Chinese [D]. Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University.
Chao, Y. R. 1968. A Grammar of Spoken Chinese [M]. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Chen, S-M. 2005. The Weak Condition of ba-Sentences in Cantonese [J]. Journal of Zhanjiang Normal College, 26(4):48-52.
Cheng, L. L-S. 1988. Aspects of the ba-Construction [A]. In C. Tenny (ed.), Studies in Generative Approaches to Aspect, Lexicon Project Working Papers 24 [C]. Cambridge, MA: MIT Working Papers in Linguistics, 73-84.
Cheng, Q. & G. Tang. 2016. On the L2 Ultimate Attainment of Mandarin Additive and Distributive Operators by Cantonese Learners [A]. In D. Stringer, et al. (eds.), 
  Proceedings of the 13th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition [C]. Cascadilla Press, 31-44.
Cheung, S. H-N. 1992. The Pretransitive in Cantonese [A]. In D-H. Ho & C-Y. Tseng (eds.), Proceedings of the International Symposium on Chinese Languages 
  and Linguistics [C]. Taipei: Academia Sinica, 241-303.
Cook, V. 1995. Multi‐competence and the Learning of Many Languages [J]. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 8(2):93-98.
Coppieters, R. 1987. Competence Differences between Native and Near-Native Speakers [J]. Language, 63(3):544-573.
Cui, X-L. 1995. Some Syntactic and Semantic Puzzles Concerning the ba-Construction [J]. Chinese Teaching in the World, 33(3):12-21.
Ding, P. S-Z. 2007. Studies on ba Resultative Construction: A comprehensive approach to mandarin ba sentences [M]. Munich: Lincom Europa. 
Domínguez, L. & M. J. Arche. 2008. Optionality in L2 Grammars: The acquisition of SV/VS contrast in Spanish [A]. In H. Chan, H. Jacob & E. Kapia (eds.), 
  Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development [C]. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, 96-107.
Du, H. 2006. The Acquisition of the Chinese ba-Construction [M]. Munich: Lincom Europa.
Feng, S-L. 1995. Prosodic structure and prosodically constrained syntax in Chinese [D]. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
Feng, S-L. 2001. Prosodically Constrained Bare-Verb in ba Constructions [J]. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 29(2):243-280.
Harrell, F. E. 2015. Regression Modeling Strategies: With applications to linear models, logistic and ordinal regression, and survival analysis [M]. New York: 
Huang, Y-Y. & S-Y. Yang. 2004. The L2 Acquisition of the Chinese ba-Construction [J]. Chinese Teaching in the World, 67(1):49-59. 
Jin, F-F. 2010. Ultimate L2 Acquisition of the Chinese ba Construction: Two case studies [A]. In C. Wilder & T. A. Åfarli (eds.), Chinese Matters: From grammar to 
  first and second language acquisition [C]. Trondheim: Tapir Academic Press, 191-209.
Jin, H-G. 1993. Pragmaticization and the L2 Acquisition of Chinese ba Constructions [J]. Studies in Language and Linguistics, 25(2):83-91.
Kuo, P-J. 2010. Transitivity and the ba Construction [J]. Taiwan Journal of Linguistics, 8(1):95-128. 
Lardiere, D. 1998a. Case and Tense in the ‘fossilized’ Steady State [J]. Second Language Research, 14(1):1-26.
Lardiere, D. 1998b. Dissociating Syntax from Morphology in a Divergent L2 End-State Grammar [J]. Second Language Research, 14(4):359-375.
Li, C-N. & S. A. Thompson. 1981. Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar [M]. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Li, J-X. 2007[1924]. The New Grammar of Chinese [M]. Changsha: Hunan Education Press.
Likert, R. 1932. A Technique for the Measurement of Attitudes [J]. Archives of Psychology, 140:1-55. 
Liu, F-H. 1997. An Aspectual Analysis of ba [J]. Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 6(1):51-99. 
Liu, F-H. 2007. Word Order Variation and ba Sentences in Chinese [J]. Studies in Language, 31(3):649-682. 
Lü, B-S. 2010. The ba-Phrase and the ba-Sentence, and the Teaching of the ba-Sentence [J]. Chinese Language Learning, (5):76-82. 
Lü, S-X. 2002[1955]. The Study of the Usage of ba [A]. In S-X. Lü, Papers on Chinese Grammar [C]. Shenyang: Liaoning Education Press, 169-191.
Lü, S-X. 1999[1980]. Eight Hundred Words of Contemporary Chinese [M]. Beijing: Commercial Press.
Lü, W-H. 1994. The Syntactic Semantics of ba-Construction [J]. Chinese Language Learning, 82(4):26-28. 
Ma, Q-H. 2008. Compensation: A Kind of Synchronous Dynamic Mechanism of Language [J]. Rhetoric Learning, (4):1-13.
Mai, Z-Y. 2016. L2 Chinese: Grammatical development and processing [J]. Second Language Research, 32(1):123-141.
Mullie, J. 1932. The Structural Principles of the Chinese Language [M]. Peiping: Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Papp, S. 2000. Stable and Developmental Optionality in Native and Non-native Hungarian Grammar [J]. Second Language Research, 16(2):173-200.
Parodi, T. & I. M. Tsimpli. 2005. ‘Real’ and Apparent Optionality in Second Language Grammars: Finiteness and pronouns in null operator structures [J]. Second 
  Language Research, 21(3):250-285.
R Core Team. 2018. R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing [OL]. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. (
Robertson, D. 2000. Variability in the Use of the English Article System by Chinese Learners of English [J]. Second Language Research, 16(2):135-172.
Selinker, L. 1972. Interlanguage [J]. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 10(3):209-231.
Shi, C-H. 2010. A Study of the Grammatical Meanings of the bǎ-Construction and other Relevant Constructions from the Perspective of Construction Group [J]. 
  Chinese Teaching in the World, 24(3):291-309. 
Sorace, A. 1993. Incomplete vs. Divergent Representations of Unaccusativity in Non-native Grammars of Italian [J]. Second Language Research, 9(1):22-47. 
Sorace, A. 2000. Syntactic Optionality in Non-native Grammars [J]. Second Language Research, 16(2):  93-102.
Sorace, A. 2003. Near-nativeness [A]. In J. D. Catherine & H. L. Michael (eds.), The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition [C]. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 
Sorace, A. 2005. Selective Optionality in Language Development [A]. In L. Cornips & K. P. Corrigan (eds.), Syntax and Variation: Reconciling the biological and the 
  social [C]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 55-80.
Sorace, A. 2011. Pinning down the Concept of “interface” in Bilingualism [J]. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1(1):1-33. 
Sorace, A. & F. Filiaci. 2006. Anaphora Resolution in Near-native Speakers of Italian [J]. Second Language Research, 22(3):339-368.
Sorace, A. & F. Keller. 2005. Gradience in Linguistic Data [J]. Lingua, 115(11):1497-1524.
Sun, C-F. 2008. The Theory of Subjectification and the Study on the Contemporary Chinese ba-Construction [A]. In Shen Yang & Feng Shengli (eds.), 
  Contemporary Linguistic Theories and Related Studies on Chinese [C]. Beijing: Commercial Press, 375-393.
Sun, C-F. & T. Givón. 1985. On the So-called SOV Word Order in Mandarin Chinese: A quantified text study and its implications [J]. Language, 61(2):329-351.
Sybesma, R. P. E. 1999. The ba-Construction [A]. In R. P. E. Sybesma, The Mandarin VP [C]. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 131-182.
Tang, S-W. 2002. Focus and Dak in Cantonese [J]. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 30(2):266-309. 
Teng, S-H. 1975. A Semantic Study of Transitivity Relations in Chinese [M]. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
Thompson, S. 1973. Transitivity and Some Problems with the bǎ construction in Mandarin Chinese [J]. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 1(2):208-221.
Tsao, F-F. 1987. A Topic-Comment Approach to the ba Construction [J]. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 15(2): l-54.
Venables, W. N. & B. D. Ripley. 2002. Modern Applied Statistics with S-PLUS [M]. New York: Springer.
Wang, H. 1957. ba Sentences [A]. In H. Wang, ba Sentences and bei Sentences [C]. Shanghai: New Knowledge Press, 1-27.
Wang, L. 1985[1943]. A Modern Grammar of Chinese [M]. Ji’nan: Shandong Education Press.
Wang, Z-H. 2011. The Relationship between Segment and Sentential/Functional Agent of the bǎ Construction: An analysis based on L2 Chinese instruction [J]. 
  Chinese Teaching in the World, 25(3):400-411. 
Wen, X-H. 2012. A Daunting Task? The Acquisition of the Chinese ba-Construction by Nonnative Speakers of Chinese [J]. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 
White, L. 2003. Ultimate Attainment: The nature of the steady state [A]. In L. White, Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar [C]. Cambridge: 
  Cambridge University Press, 241-272.
Wickham, H. 2016. Ggplot2: Elegant graphics for data analysis [M]. Cham: Springer.
Yang, S-Y. 1998a. The Analysis of the ba-Construction from the Viewpoint of Aspectuality (1) [J]. Chinese Language Learning, (2):10-13.
Yang, S-Y. 1998b. The Analysis of the ba-Construction from the Viewpoint of Aspectuality (2) [J]. Chinese Language Learning, (3):10-12.
Yip, V. 1995. Interlanguage and Learnability: From Chinese to English [M]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 
Yu, W-Q. 2000. A Report of an Investigation on CSL Learner’s Using of ba-Sentence [J]. Chinese Language Learning, 5:49-54. 
Yuan, B-P. 2007. Behaviours of Wh-words in English Speakers’ L2 Chinese Wh-questions: Evidence of no variability, temporary variability and persistent variability 
  in L2 grammars [J]. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10(3):277-298.
Zhang, B-J. 2001. Symmetries and Asymmetries between bei Construction and ba Construction [J]. Studies of the Chinese Language, 285(6):519-524.
Zheng, A. Z-R. 2018. The Interpretation of English Reflexives and Pronouns by Adult Speakers of Chinese: An analysis of language transfers [J]. Macrolinguistics
Zheng, J. 2002. A survey of the research on the ba-Sentence in Modern Chinese [J]. Language Teaching and Linguistic Studies, (5):41-47.
Zou, K. 1993. The Syntax of the Chinese ba Construction [J]. Linguistics, 31(4):715-736.
Zou, K. 1995. The Syntax of the Chinese ba-Constructions and Verb Compounds: A morpho-syntactic analysis [D]. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Southern 


  • Macrolinguistics(ISSN 1934-5755,e-ISSN 2473-6376)is an international academic journal w...
  • 1. Authors should submit the original work. This journal uses iThentic...
  • 1. Peer review of this journal consists of three procedures in sequence: initial review ...
  • The Learned Press, 9 East 37th Street, Suite: WL, New York, NY 10016, U.S.APhone: 646-831-8213Fa...