Explaining the Acquisition Order of Classifiers and Measure Words via their Mathematical Complexity

Marc Tang

Abstract


We provide theoretical explanation for the acquisition of numeral classifiers (sortal classifiers) and measure words (mensural classifiers) in Mandarin Chinese. Previous research in various languages separately observed that the general classifier is acquired before specific classifiers and that classifiers are acquired previous to measure words. However no theoretical discussion was fully developed and no study combined general classifier, specific classifiers and measure words in one dataset. We propose to fill these gaps by combining semantic complexity (Brown, 1973) and a mathematical approach (Her, 2012): given that the relative complexity of x, y and z is unknown, x + y is more complex than either x or y, and x + y + z is more complex than any of them. By applying the mathematical approach, it is observed that general classifier carries the mathematical value of times one, noted x, while specific classifiers posses x plus a semantic value of y, which highlights an inherent feature of the referent. Finally, measure words detain both x and y, along with a new information of quantity z. Therefore, the acquisition order is expected to start from the simplest semanticity and develop toward the most complex, i.e. general classifiers (x) > specific classifier (x+y)> measure word (x+y+z). As supporting evidence, we gathered longitudinal data from CHILDES (Child Language Data Exchange System; Zhou, 2008). The participants included 110 children from 1-6 years old, providing a total of 110 conversations of 20 minutes each with 1851 tokens of numeral classifiers and measure words. Our methodology applied the definition of acquisition from Brown (1973) and the equation of Suppliance in Obligatory Context (SOC) cross-checked with Target-Like Usage (TLU) from Pica (1983). The results demonstrated that our model generated correct prediction, serving as theoretical basis for future studies in the field of language acquisition.

Keywords


Numeral classifier, Measure word, Mandarin Chinese, Semantic complexity, Child Acquisition

Full Text:

Article PDF

References


Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. (2000). Classifiers: A typology of noun categorization devices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. (2007). Grammars in contact: A cross-linguistic perspective. In Alexandra Y Aikhenvald & Robert M W Dixon (Eds.), Grammars in contact: A cross-linguistic typology (pp. 1-66). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Borer, Hagit. (2005). Structuring sense, Vol. 1: In name only. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brown, Roger. (1973). A first language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chao, Yuen Ren (1968). A grammar of spoken Chinese. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Chen, Yi Ju. (2013). Measure words and classifiers: Introspective viewpoints and suggestions in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language. Unpublished master thesis, Taiwan National Chengchi University.

Erbaugh, Mary S. (1986). Taking stock: The development of Chinese noun classifiers historically and in young children. In Colette Craig (Ed.), Noun classes and categorization (pp. 399-436). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Fillmore, Charles. (1982). Frame semantics. In Linguistic Society of Korea (Eds.), Linguistics in the Morning Calm (pp. 111-137). Seoul: Hanshin Publishing.

Gil, David. (2013). Numeral Classifiers. In M. S. Dryer & M. Haspelmath (Eds.), The world atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Gleason, Berko J, & Ratner, Bernstein N. (2001). The development of language. New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Greenberg, Joseph. (1990[1972]). Numerical classifiers and substantival number: problems in the genesis of a linguistic type. In Keith Denning & Suzanne Kemmer (Eds.), On language: Selected writings of Joseph H. Greenberg (pp.166-193). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Her, One-Soon, & Lai, Wan-Jun. (2012). Classifiers: The many ways to profile ‘one’, a case study of Taiwan Mandarin. International Journal of Computer Processing of Oriental Languages, 24(1), 79-94

Her, One-Soon, & Hsieh, Chen-Tien. (2010). On the semantic distinction between classifiers and measure words in Chinese. Language and Linguistics, 11(3), 527-551.

Her, One-Soon. (2012). Distinguishing classifiers and measure words: A mathematical perspective and implications. Lingua, 122(14), 1668-1691.

Hsieh, Chen-Tien. (2009). A frame-based approach to classifiers: a case study of Taiwan Mandarin. Unpublished master thesis, Taiwan National Chengchi University.

Hu, Qian. (1993). The Acquisition of Chinese Classifiers by Young Mandarin-speaking Children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University.

Langacker, Ronald W. (1987). Foundations of cognitive grammar, Vol. I: Theoretical prerequisites. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Li, Peggy, & Cheung, Pierina. (to appear). L1 Acquisition of classifiers and count-mass distinction (Mandarin). In Rint Sybesma, Wolfgang Behr, Yueguo Gu, Zev Handel, C.-T. James Huang & James Myers (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Chinese language and linguistics. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.

Li, Yenhuai. (1999). Plurality in a classifier language. Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 8(1), 75-99.

Li, Peggy., Huang, Becky., & Hsiao, Yaling. (2010). Learning that classifiers count: Mandarin speaking children’s acquisition of sortal and mensural classifiers. Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 19(3), 207-230.

Liu, Haiyong. (2008). A case study of the acquisition of Mandarin classifiers. Language Research, 44(2), 345-360.

McClelland, James L., Rumelhart, David E., & the PDP research group. (1986). Parallel distributed processing: Explorations in the microstructure of cognition. Volume II. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

MacWhinney, Brian. (2000). The CHILDES Project: Tools for analyzing talk. Third edition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Matsumoto, Yo. (1985). Acquisition of some Japanese numeral classifiers: the search for convention. Stanford Papers and Reports in Child Language Development, 24, 79-86.

Matsumoto, Yo. (1987). Order of acquisition in the lexicon: Implication from Japanese numeral classifiers. In Keith E Nelson & Anne van Kleeck (Eds,), Children’s language 7 (pp. 229-260). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Myers, James, & Tsay, Jane. (2000). The acquisition of the default classifier in Taiwanese. Proceedings of the Seventh International Symposium on Chinese Languages and Linguistics, 87-106.

Naka, Makiko. (1999). The acquisition of Japanese numerical classifications by 2-4-year-old children: the role of caretakers’ linguistic inputs. Japanese Psychological Research, 41(1), 70-78.

Ng, Bee Chin. (1989). The acquisition of numeral classifiers in Hokkien, a Southern Min language. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, La Trobe University.

Pica, Teresa. (1983). Adult Acquisition of English as a second language under different conditions of exposure. Language Learning, 33, 465-497.

Rey, Georges. (2003). The analytic/synthetic distinction. In Edward N Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/analytic-synthetic/ (accessed 01.12.09).

Robertson, Teresa, & Atkins, Philip. (2008). Essential vs. accidental properties. In: Edward N Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/essential-accidental (accessed 01.12.09).

Sanches, Mary. (1977). Language acquisition and language change: Japanese numeral classifiers. In Ben G Blount & Mary Sanches (Eds.), Sociocultural dimensions of language change (pp. 51-62). New York: Academic Press.

Snow, Catherine E., Pan, Barbara A., Imbens-Bailey, Alison., & Herman, Jane. (1996). Learning how to say what one means: A longitudinal study of children's speech act use. Social Development, 5, 56-84.

Sumiya, Hiromi. & Colunga, Eliana. (2006). The effect of familiarity and semantics on early acquisition of Japanese numerical classifiers. Proceedings of the 30th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, 607-618.

Tai, H Y James, & Wang, Lianqing. (1990). A semantic study of the classifier Tiao. Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, 25(1), 35-56.

Tardif, Twila Z. (1993). Adult-to-child speech and language acquisition in Mandarin Chinese. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Yale University.

Tardif, Twila Z. (1996). Nouns are not always learned before verbs: Evidence from mandarin speakers’ early vocabularies. Developmental Psychology, 32, 492-504.

Tran, Jennie. (2011). The acquisition of Vietnamese classifiers. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Hawaii.

Tse, Shek Kam., Li, Hui., & Leung, Shing On. (2007). The acquisition of Cantonese classifiers by preschool children in Hong Kong. Journal of Child Language, 34, 495-517.

Uchida, Novuko, & Imai, Mutsumi. (1999). Heuristics in learning classifiers: the acquisition of the classifier system and its implications for the nature of lexical acquisition, Japanese Psychological Research, 41(1), 50-69.

Wong, Sin Ping. (1998). The acquisition of Cantonese noun phrases. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Hawaii.

Yamamoto, Kasumi. & Keil, Frank. (2000). The acquisition of Japanese numerical classifiers – Linkages between grammatical forms and conceptual categories, Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 9, 379-409.

Au Yeung, Ben Wai Hoo. (2007). Multiplication basis of emergence of classifier. Language and Linguistics, 8(4), 835-861

.

Yi, Byeong-Uk. (2011). What is a numeral classifier? Philosophical Analysis, 23, 195-258.

Zhou‚ Jing, & Li‚ Xiaoyan. (2008). Developmental differentiation of communicative acts of Chinese children in preschool years‚ Journal of Research in Ancient Chinese Language, 1, 139-149.


Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.