Asymmetric Form-meaning Mappings in L2 Acquisition of Chinese Sentence-final Particles ba

This study investigates to what extent English-speaking learners of L2 Chinese can establish form and meaning connections in their L2 acquisition of the Chinese sentence-final question particle ba (baq) and suggestion particle ba (bas). As features of the baq and the bas in Chinese are configured differently in English, successful acquisition of baq and bas by English speakers requires reconfigurations. An acceptability judgment task, a dialogue completion task, a sentence assembly task, and a translation task were adopted in the study. Results obtained from 58 English-speaking learners of Chinese (at intermediate and advanced levels) show that learners do not have much difficulty in reconfiguring features attached to the bas and the form-meaning connections are established early and easily. In contrast, they show great difficulty in reconfiguring features on the baq. It is argued that the reconfiguration of features is a prerequisite for the successful form-meaning mapping in L2 grammars and that the ‘one-to-many’ form-meaning mapping imposes great difficulties for L2 learners.

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