Project on Cantonese


Acquisition of Existential Non-interrogative Question Words in Cantonese 
by Tsz-Yan LEUNG and Tsz-Ying LAM

Introduction

Cantonese-speaking children get in touch with multifarious kinds of interrogative and non-interrogative question words during their early years. Notwithstanding, the majority of the researches in the past merely concentrated on the acquisition of interrogative of question words in Cantonese. In fact, the understanding of non-interrogative question words in Cantonese is a relatively abstract knowledge in children’s mind when compared to interrogative question words. It not only requires the children’s knowledge on interrogative question words, it is also necessary for children to utilize both their various linguistic competence like syntax and pragmatics; consequently, it is worth investigating the acquisition of non-interrogative question words in Cantonese.

Previous studies on non-interrogative question words acquisition

Previously, there were two studies done on the acquisition of non-interrogative question words by Alice Cheung. In Cheung’s investigation in 1995, she discovered that the age of acquisition of non-interrogative question words was around two to three years old. However, her findings only represent the production of non-interrogative question words which are used to label entity whose name is not known or can’t be recalled. There are still a vast number of uses of non-interrogative question words that have not been investigated. Moreover, she also tried to identify the order of acquisition of non-interrogative question words in Cantonese focusing on production data collected from naturalistic sampling; nevertheless, no conclusion could been drawn as to whether there exist a regular pattern in the acquisition of non-interrogative question words in Cantonese inasmuch as the occurrence of these words was limited in the one-year-study, according to Cheung (1996).

Aims and reasons for current investigation

Subsequently, our experiment will focus on the comprehension of existential polarity question words (EPWs) used in particle yes-no questions as well as in A not A questions. The present investigation aims to explore 1) the acquisition of Cantonese-speaking children on their comprehension of non-interrogative question words as EPWs; 2) the pattern of acquisition of targeted non-interrogative words; 3) the approximate age of such acquisition and inasmuch as the surface form of interrogative and non-interrogative question words are identical, we would also like to examine 4) the linguistic factors that affect the interpretation between interrogative and non- interrogative sense of the question words under our investigation. We anticipate a later acquisition of the non-interrogative question words under our investigation when compared to those by Cheung in 1995 since it involves more abstract ideas and is more difficult for children to acquire.

General Description of Cantonese Question Words

Interrogative question words in Cantonese

Cantonese question words have both interrogative and non-interrogative uses. Interrogative question words are used to construct interrogative content clauses (i.e. question word questions) and they request contentive information as answers. They either occur in direct or indirect questions while they may be used either in subject, object or adjunct position (Cheung, 1995). Table 1 demonstrates the distribution of interrogative question words in Cantonese.

Table 1: Distribution of Interrogative Question Words in Cantonese

Question word Meaning Place of Occurrence
邊個 bin1go3 “who” subject, object, in NP containing a nominaliser
邊個 bin1go3 “which” subject, object
邊+CL(+N) bin1   subject, object, as specifier of NP
邊個 bin1go3 “whose” in NP containing a nominaliser
乜嘢 mat1je5 “what” subject, object, inside compound noun, in NP with nominaliser
乜 mat1   subject, object, inside compound noun, in NP with nominaliser
咩嘢 me1je5   subject, object, inside compound noun, in NP with nominaliser
咩嘢 me1je5   subject, object, inside compound noun, in NP with nominaliser
邊度 bin1dou6 “where” subject, object, adjunct, in NP containing a nominaliser
邊處 bin1syu3   subject, object, adjunct, in NP containing a nominaliser
邊 bin1   object, adjunct
點樣 dim2joeng2 “how/what-manner” adjunct
點 dim2   adjunct
點樣 dim2joeng2 “what-like” subject, object, in NP containing a nominaliser
點 dim2 “what-do” subject, object, in NP containing a nominaliser
點樣 dim2joeng2   subject, object, adjunct
點 dim2   subject, object, adjunct
點解 dim2gaai2 “why” adjunct
幾時 gei2si4 “when” adjunct, in NP containing a nominaliser
幾多 gei2do1 “how many/much” specifier of NP
幾 gei2 “what-extent” specifier of AdjP

Source: Cheung, A., Lee, T., Leung, S., Man, P., Szeto, K., Wong, C., & Wong, C. (1996). The development of grammatical competence in Cantonese-speaking children. Hong Kong.

  From the table above, we can observe that there are numerous interrogative question words in Cantonese; however, our experiment will only focus on three of these question words and they are邊個 (bin1go3) “who”, 乜嘢 (mat1ye5) “what” and 邊度 (bin1dou6) “where”. The following shows the examples of each question words under our investigation.

e.g.1 邊個係你最好既朋友? Who is your best friend?
e.g.2 你鍾意食乜嘢架? What do you like eating?
e.g.3 你去過邊度Where have you been?

In e.g.1, the interrogative question word 邊個 (bin1go3) requests a contentive information about who the person is while in the other two examples, 乜嘢 (mat1ye5) and 邊度 (bin1dou6) asks for what the thing is and the location respectively.

Non-interrogative question words in Cantonese

Non-interrogative question words in Cantonese can be used as indefinite pronouns, intensifiers and in rhetorical questions (Cheung, 1996). As indefinite pronouns, non-interrogative question words are widely distributed in negative environment, in conditional sentences, as non-factive complements etc (Cheung, 1996). Among all the uses as indefinite pronouns, we will concentrate on the non-interrogative question words in particle yes-no questions as well as in A not A questions. In particle yes-no questions and A not A questions, the non-interrogative question words are perceived as existential polarity question words (EPWs). Like the polarity “any” in English, Cantonese EPWs may not appear in affirmative contexts and similarly, the typical contexts in which they appear are negation sentences, questions and conditional clauses (Lin, 2004). Moreover, the EPWs in Cantonese must be licensed by certain operators such as negative word, yes-no question particle, conditional connective, or expressions indicating possibility.

  In our experiment, three EPWs which include邊個 (bin1go3) “anybody/anyone”, 乜嘢 (mat1ye5) “anything” and 邊度 (bin1dou6) “anywhere” are selected for investigation.

e.g.4你想去邊度?(Particle yes-no question)

e.g.5你係唔係想食乜嘢呀?(A not A question)

  Owing to the presence of the interrogative particle咩 (me2) in e.g.4, 邊度 (bin1dou6) is interpreted with an existential meaning as “anywhere”. Here, 邊度 (bin1dou6) no longer possesses any interrogative sense. The case is similar in e.g.5, the presence of the A not A operator係唔係 (hai6m4hai6) licenses 乜嘢 (mat1ye5) with an existential sense and subsequently乜嘢 (mat1ye5) can take the reading of “anything. The interpretation of interrogative question words and EPWs will be further discussed in the latter part of this paper.

Methodology

Targeted children and data collection

  Throughout this cross-sectional study, first-hand data from the experiment are collected from 10 targeted Cantonese-speaking children aged between 4; 06; 13 to 8; 07; 20 years old who were born in Hong Kong. Given that the knowledge of EPWs is, in large part, abstract and complex and the children should have completely acquired the interrogative question words before EPWs, this relatively older age group is selected for the test. Furthermore, additional experimental data from an adult and a primary six student (who is supposed to fully acquire the language) are used for control. Table 2 illustrates the information of the ten targeted children performed in the test.

Table 2: Age and Sex Distribution of the Eight Targeted Children under Investigation

Name Age Sex   Name Age Sex
盧恩瞳 (4; 06; 13) F   施恩明 (6; 08; 26) M
蘇曉彤 (4; 09; 12) F   麥愷輝 (7; 03; 22) M
盧樂生 (5; 05; 12) M   何蒹葭 (7; 06; 29) F
周至仁 (6; 01; 13) M   李文煜 (8; 04; 13) M
蘇曉嵐 (6; 06; 04) F   林俊濠 (8; 07; 20) M

Experimental setting

The experiment focuses on the comprehension of EPWs in A not A question type and particle yes-no question type. The subjects were tested individually and the whole experiment was video-recorded. During the test, they had to answer questions composed of interrogative question-word questions, A not A questions, particle yes-no question and a mixture of them.

The experiment consists of two parts. In part one (Appendix I), six warm-up questions were asked to ensure the children can understand and respond correctly to all the question formats under the investigation: 1) interrogative question word question type; 2) A not A question type and 3) particle yes-no question type. In this session, the questions mainly asked for some personal information of the subject.

Part two of the experiment (Appendix I) includes a story-telling tasks associated with ten targeted questions. In the test, the child listened to a story which was divided into three different contexts and ten targeted questions were asked. The questions in the test includes question word questions and questions with different combinations of EPWs and the interrogative particle咩 (me1) or the A not A operator係唔係 (hai6m4hai6). Throughout the story-telling session, pictures were also provided for children to aid comprehension of the story and responses to the questions. It should be understood that in the questions with different combinations, the interrogative sense is not due to the non-interrogative EPWs; rather, it is a consequence of the existence of question elements like interrogative particles and the A not A operators.

A merging of story-telling and question-asking task was used in the experiment instead of collecting natural sampling data from the corpus inasmuch as the production of EPWs from the children was limited and rare; hence, the acquisition of EPWs cannot be assessed by this kind of method.  The story-telling session can help the children understand the context better.

Precaution of the experiment

Before the experiment conducted with targeted children, an adult was asked to take the test and their answers would be used as reference for the model correct answers of the test. This can ensure there is no ambiguity for the questions asked. To make sure the comprehension of the story is not too difficult, we have also invited a primary 6 student who has fully acquire the language to perform in the test as control.

Before the test, investigators tried to chat with the targeted child in a relaxing atmosphere so as to build up a good relationship with them. Subsequently, the experiment could be carried out more smoothly as the children will not be too shy to give answers for the questions.

During this experiment, to guarantee no hint was given by the parents of the child, the test was conducted with the investigator and the child alone. Furthermore, we have to ensure least distraction from the environment.

To ensure the children understand the question alone, investigator should not repeat the questions by only asking 係唔係 (hai6m4hai6). Otherwise the children may just refer to this question and give the answers.

Assessment Criteria of the Test

Inasmuch as we did not provide any choices of answers for the questions in the experiment, the answer produced by the children can be of various kinds. However, the aim of our experiment is merely to test whether the children can understand and respond to the interrogative and non-interrogative use of question words. Subsequently, there are many possible correct answers for the questions and as long as they can distinguish the usage of interrogative and non-interrogative question words, they are assumed to be able to comprehend them.

Assessment criteria for interrogative question word questions

Interrogative question word questions possess question words like邊個 (bin1go3), 邊度 (bin1dou6) and乜嘢 (mat1ye5) as their interrogative elements. These question words ask the addressee for new information which the speaker does not know.  The questions request contentive answers with respect to the question words. For instance, the possible correct answers for questions with the interrogative question word邊度 (bin1dou6) can be an expression referring to any place and anywhere. Here, we do not concern about the exact place, instead, we want to know if the children understand the function of the interrogative question word as asking for a place.

e.g.6 你去左邊度黎呀?
         Where did you go?

From the above example, the correct answer can be any place like 公園 “the park” or遊樂場 “the playground”.

Assessment criteria for A not A questions associated with EPWs

A not A questions with EPWs possess an A not A operator, 係唔係 (hai6m4hai6) in this experiment, as their interrogative element. The question words in his type of questions are utilized to represent an existential meaning owing to the presence of the A not A operator. The questions look for a yes or no answer. The correct answers of this kind of A not A questions can be “yes” with optionally supplementary information given, “no” or just a response 嗯 ( m6 ) which signals “yes”.

e.g.7        係唔係邊個蝦你呀?
        Did anybody bully you?

In e.g.7, the correct answers can be 係 (hai6) “yes” (, 小強蝦我 “xiao chiang bullies me.”), 唔係 (m4hai6) “no” and 嗯 (m6).

Assessment criteria for particle yes-no questions associated with EPWs

Particle yes-no questions with EPWs take the interrogative particle 咩 (me1) as the interrogative element. That is to say, the interrogative sense of the question is permitted by the interrogative particle咩 (me1), but not the  question words, which  are used to represent existential meaning in this case. This type of questions presuppose an idea of the speaker and ask for confirmation from the listener and therefore looking for an answer of either yes or no like the A not A questions. The correct answers are “yes” with optionally supplementary information given, “no” or just a response 嗯 (m6) which signals “yes”.

e.g.8 你想去邊度食野咩?
         Do you want to go anywhere to eat something?

For the above example, the correct answers are 係(hai6) “yes” (,我想去麥當勞食嘢 “I want to go to McDonald’s to eat something.” ), 唔係 (m4hai6) “no” and 嗯 (m6).

Experimental Findings

In the experiment, children’s comprehension ability is used to estimate their acquisition of questions words as EPWs. Children just need to understand and respond to the questions asked with the given context while their production was not tested.

Assumption

When analyzing the data, we have made the assumption that the correct answers for the questions produced by the children indicate the children’s understanding of the EPWs and therefore, they have acquired it. On the other hand, the incorrect answers produced indicate that the children did not understand and hence, they have not acquired it yet.

Table 3 and 4 summarizes the findings from the present experiment. The boxes with yellow high light show the results from the control data.

Table 3: Summary of the Findings in the Experiment Part One

Subjects

Part One

 

Interrogative

 
 

Q.1

Q.2

Q.3

Q.4

Q.5

Q.6

 

乜嘢

係唔係

乜嘢

邊度

鐘唔鐘意

 

盧恩瞳 (4; 06; 13)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

蘇曉彤 (4; 09; 12)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

盧樂生 (5; 05; 12)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

周至仁 (6; 01; 13)

v

v

v

??

v

v

 

蘇曉嵐 (6; 06; 04)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

施恩明 (6; 08; 26)

v

v

v

v

??

v

 

麥愷輝 (7; 03; 22)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

何蒹葭 (7; 06; 29)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

李文煜 (8; 04; 13)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

林俊濠 (8; 07; 20)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

林皓霆 (11; 08; 08)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

鄭麗卿 (48; 01 ;06)

v

v

v

v

v

v

 

v=correct answer  X=incorrect answer  ??=unrelated answer/answer out of our scope of studies

Table 4: Summary of the Findings in the Experiment Part Two

Subjects

Part Two

Interrogative

Non-interrogative

疑問詞

係唔係

Q.4

Q.2

Q.8

Q.6

Q.1

Q.3

Q.9

Q.7

Q.10

Q.5

邊個

邊度

乜嘢

邊度

邊個

邊度

乜嘢

邊個

邊度

乜嘢

盧恩瞳 (4; 06; 13)

v

??

v

v

X

X

X

X

X

X

蘇曉彤 (4; 09; 12)

v

v

v

v

X

X

X

X

X

X

盧樂生 (5; 05; 12)

v

v

v

v

v

X

X

X

X

X

周至仁 (6; 01; 13)

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

X

X

X

蘇曉嵐 (6; 06; 04)

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

X

X

X

施恩明 (6; 08; 26)

v

v

v

v

v

v

X

X

X

X

麥愷輝 (7; 03; 22)

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

X

v

何蒹葭 (7; 06; 29)

v

v

v

v

X

v

X

X

v

v

李文煜 (8; 04; 13)

v

v

v

v

v

X

v

v

v

v

林俊濠 (8; 07; 20)

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

林皓霆 (11; 08; 08)

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

鄭麗卿 (48; 01 ;06)

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v

v=correct answer  X=incorrect answer  ??=unrelated answer/answer out of our scope of studies

Approximate age of acquisition

We have find from our experiment that the approximate acquisition of EPWs in A not A questions is around six years old while the acquisition of EPWs in particle yes-no questions is after seven years old. We estimate the acquisition by looking at the age of children for giving correct answers for the A not A questions with EPWs and particle yes-no questions with EPWs.

Patterns of acquisition

Apart from the approximate age of acquisition, we have also figured out the general pattern of acquisition after discarding the small individual deviation. The interrogative question words are acquired far before the existential question words in A not A and particle yes-no questions. Furthermore, the EPWs in A not A questions are acquired before those in particle yes-no questions.

Analysis and Discussion

Explanation for pattern of acquisition

(A) Interrogative question words>Existential polarity question words

The reasons for the pattern of acquisition are suggested as follows. Firstly, the interrogative question words are acquired before the existential ones. The reason for the apparent pattern and the comprehension of the questions is contributed by the number of potential interrogative elements in each question type. Within a question word question, there is only one potential interrogative element which is the question word like邊個 (bin1go3), 邊度 (bin1dou6) and乜嘢 (mat1ye5). Nonetheless, in A not A questions and particle yes-no questions, there exist two potential interrogative elements, namely, the question word邊個 (bin1go3), 邊度 (bin1dou6), 乜嘢 (mat1ye5) and the A not A operator係唔係 (hai6m4hai6) or the interrogative particle 咩 (me1). Evidently, the sentence structure of the latter ones is more complicated when compared with the question word questions.

Due to the existence of the two potential interrogative elements, it is necessary for the children to acquire both potential interrogative elements before understanding the questions. Otherwise, they may simply neglect the other potential one and interpret as questions with the one they know.

In addition, the A not A questions and particle yes-no questions associated with question words require a complex interpretation and understanding of the existential meaning of the question word from the clues in the question structure as well as the context in the story. This poses, to a large extent, some difficulties for children’s comprehension since it requires children’s knowledge of pragmatics as well as semantics.

Furthermore, the comprehension of EPWs also involves the syntactic knowledge of c-command by other interrogative element to affirm the existential meaning of the question words and this will be discussed in the latter part of the paper.

Moreover, there is also a possibility that the exposure of children to these kinds of uses of EPWs (in A not A questions and particle yes-no questions) is inadequate that they may feel awkward and strange when hearing these new types of questions. Subsequently, they pick up the wrong interrogative elements and give wrong answers. In Cantonese, there exist other constructions and phrases representing the same meaning as the EPWs. For instance, in e.g.9, 有人 (yau5yan4) has the similar reading as 邊個 (bin1go3) and the meaning of  有人 (yau5yan4) is more prominent and more understandable than邊個 (bin1go3). Consequently, the adults tend to use the former one to avoid ambiguity.

e.g.9 係唔係有人蝦你呀?
  c.f. 係唔係邊個蝦你呀?

 

(B) EPWs in A not A questions>EPWs in particle yes-no questions

Secondly, the existential question words in A not A questions are acquired before the existential question words in particle yes-no questions. The reason of this pattern of acquisition may be due to the prominence of the potential interrogative elements in the questions. In A not A questions and particle yes-no questions, the A not A operator is phonetically more prominent than the interrogative particle as it is composed of more syllables and it is usually put at the front or middle position of the question. There exist two potential interrogative elements in a particle yes-no questions and they include question words and the interrogative particle 咩 (me1). As shown in e.g.10 and e.g.11, the question words乜嘢 (mat1ye5) and 邊個 (bin1go3) occur at a more forward position than the interrogative particle咩 (me1). Hence, there is a possibility that the children selectively perceive the more prominent potential interrogative element as the genuine interrogative element of the question. Similarly, in e.g.12 and e.g.13, there also exist two potential interrogative elements in the A not A questions (i.e. the A not A operator and the question words). However, the A not A operator precedes the question words and it is a trisyllabic element whereas the question words are disyllabic. Thus, it is easier for the children to pick up the correct interrogative element-the A not A operator in this case.

e.g.10 你想食乜嘢
e.g.11 邊個送咗份禮物俾你
e.g.12 係唔係邊個蝦你呀?
e.g.13 你係唔係想食乜嘢呢?

  Moreover, the meaning of the interrogative particle is less obvious than the A not A operator. The interrogative particle咩 (me1) involves the more abstract idea of presupposition. The presence of this interrogative particle presupposes the opposite reading to be true and asked for confirmation. It is more difficult and requries more time for the children to understand for the reason that the children need to realize such a presupposition first being answering the questions.

 

Comparison between currently investigation and Cheung’s investigation

    As we have predicted, we have obtained a older age of acquistion of non-interrogative question words in current experiment when compared with Cheung’s which was done in 1995. The reason is that her non-interrogative question words under investigation is simpler and involves less linguistic knowledge (i.e. they are merely used to label entity whose name is not known or can’t be recalled). That is, when you do not recall the name of the entity or do not know how to name it, you can simply use the non-interrogative question words to replace it.  Therefore, it involves less interpretation and understanding of the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic structure of the sentences, questions and context.  Nevertheless, we have investigated the EPWs within the type of non-interrogative question words and as explained above, it involves more complex understanding about different kinds of linguistic knowledge of the language. Therefore, later acquisition age is obtained.

  In addition, our investigation goes a step further when compared with the investigation of Cheung done in 1996. At that time, she failed to find out the pattern of non-interrogative question words due to the limited production data.  Although our targeted non-interrogative question words (EPWs) are not identical to those of hers, we are able to find out some apparently clear patterns of the EPWs in our investigation by conducting comprehension tasks. This sheds a light on the research on the acquisition of non-interrogative question words and we hope that further investigation can be done on this scope of studies since the majority part is remained untouched. We will discuss more on this in the part of further investigation.

 

Factors affecting the interpretation of the interrogative sense of question words

•(A)       Precluded co-occurrence of interrogative elements

The interrogative question words cannot coexist with other interrogative elements like the A not A operator and interrogative particle 咩(me1). Actually, the co-occurrence of the interrogative A not A operator and the interrogative question word within one question is contradictory, if not nonsense. The A not A operator asks the addressee to choose between “yes” or “no” (i.e. to ask whether the statement in the question is true or not) as answer whilst the interrogative question word asks for a contentive answer providing the information requested respectively. Unless the question word is used for existential sense, the question will be ungrammatical. The case is similar between interrogative question words and the interrogative particle. The speaker will not ask for confirmation of the presupposition and ask for a contentive information with respect to the interrogative question word within a question.

e.g.14 媽媽買左D乜嘢俾你
           Did Mum buy anything for you?

           Did Mum buy *what for you?

e.g.15 係唔係邊個蝦你呀?
           Did anyone bully you?
           Did *who bully you?

For the e.g.14, we can only get the meaning of “did Mum buy anything for you”. On the other hand, the second reading is absolutely impossible. Likewise, the meaning of the sentence in e.g.15 can only be “did anyone bully you” but not “did *who bully you”.  In both cases, the question words乜嘢(mat1ye5) “what” and邊個 (bin1go3) “who”, cannot be interpreted with interrogative meaning. Rather, they should be interpreted with existential meaning like “any” in English. In view of the fact that question words do not have inherent quantificational force, they always need to be licensed with triggers, which determine the quantificational force of the  question words. (Cheng, 1994).

In fact, the meaning and reading of question words is ambiguous. They can be either be interpreted as interrogative words, existential quantifiers or even universal quantifiers. Given that words do not have inherent quantificational force, their possible existential meaning depends on the environment they appear. Therefore, they need to be licensed by triggers to represent existential meaning. (Cheng, 1994)

•(B)   C-command (EPWs and A not A operators)

Polarity items like “any” in English and the EPWs in Cantonese need to be licensed by affective contexts and constituents such as negatives, questions, degree categories and conditionals (Carnie, 2007). Furthermore, the affective context must be in a position that can c-command the polarity in order to license it. Consequently, the interpretation of the question words as existential sense, a polarity item needed to be licensed by the affective context, and in our experiment A not A operator in A not A questions.

In A not A questions, the question words can only be licensed with existential sense when it is c-commanded by polarity items (questions), such as A not A operator. (Wu, 2002) Once the A not A operator precede the question words, the question is the daughter of the operator’s sister and therefore, the A not A operator can c-command the question word. As a result, only object position can be licensed by the A not A operator in most of the case.

However, there is an exception. It is fascinating to find out that only A not A questions formed by the verb “be”, i.e. 係唔係operator may license EPWs in the subject position. (Lin, 1997) Nevertheless, it should still precede the question word in order to c-command it. The reason for the licensing effect of 係唔係  operator in subject position is that it is possible for it to place before the subject question words. While for other A not A operators, such as 鐘唔鐘意 or 想唔想 , all of them must be put after the question word acting as a subject.

e.g.16 你想唔想邊度呀?
           Do you want to go anywhere?

e.g.17 係唔係邊個蝦你呀?
           Did anybody bully you?
1

e.g.18 邊個係唔係蝦你呀?

As shown in the above examples and the tree diagram, the question words邊度 (bin1dou6) and邊個 (bin1go3) in sentences 你想唔想去邊度呀?and係唔係邊個蝦你呀?are interpreted with an existential meaning anywhere and anybody. This is because in both sentences, the EPWs are c-commanded by the A not A operators 想唔想 and 係唔係.  Notwithstanding, 邊個 (bin1go3) in 邊個係唔係蝦你呀?cannot be interpreted with an existential meaning since the EPW 邊個receive no license. The question might still be grammatical if邊個 (bin1go3) is interpreted as an indefinite subject used to replace the entity which cannot be recalled. Therefore, the A-not-A must appear before the question word in order to c-command it and give the existential meaning.

•(C)   Interrogative particle (me1) in particle yes-no questions

Another trigger which can also license EPWs is the interrogative particle 咩(me1) in particle yes-no questions. Contrasting with A not A operator, it can license EPWs occur in any position in the sentence as long as it is in the scope of interrogative marker (Lin, 1997). With the aid of this licenser, one can be able to interpret the question words with existential sense. The following shows the examples of EPWs in particle yes no questions

e.g.19 你去左邊度
           Did you go to anywhere?
e.g.20 邊個送左份禮物俾你
           Did anyone give you a present?

We can see in e.g.19 and e.g.20, the question words can be interpreted as EPWs in both subject and object positions since the interrogative particle咩(me1) can license EPWs in any position in the question.

Limitation and Errors

In our experiment, story-telling is involved. We choose this method because the existential meaning of the question words is better to be understood if they are associated with context. Nevertheless, this method gives rise to some errors and limitations. Firstly, the memory span of children is limited; consequently, they cannot handle long story and so many characters. They cannot memorize the story and so the answer given may be affected.

Also, the experiment requires children to understand the story in order to provide answers for the questions. The late acquisition found by us may be caused by the misunderstanding of the context by the children rather than the ability to understand the non-interrogative use of question words.

Furthermore, since pictures are provided for children to have better understanding of the story context, the children may be misled by the pictures and directly pick up the answers from the icons without thinking about which way they have to answer with reference to the questions.

There is a possibility that the children are not concentrated during the test, so they may just pick up the more prominent potential interrogative elements when they hear the questions. Subsequently, they answer the question incorrectly.

Lastly, the sample size during this experiment is relatively small; therefore, it cannot accurately represent the general patterns of acquisition and the understanding of EPWs under investigation.

Further Investigation

As the sample size is relatively limited in this experiment, further investigation could be done with a larger sampling data. It is believed that larger sample size can bring a more representative and accurate result.

In the present investigation, we only focus on non-interrogative question words used as indefinite pronoun with existential sense (EPWs). Further investigations on other senses like quantification, negative are possible.

Also, our experiment only concentrates on one type of A not A operator 係唔係 (hai6m4hai6). Further investigation testing the acquisition of EPWs in different types of A not A operators like 鍾唔鍾意、去唔去 is also possible.

In this investigation, we found out that testing children’s comprehension is a better method to test their acquisition on non-interrogative question words than merely looking at the production data. Since production data is always limit (because the children rarely produce non-interrogative question words), it is hard to investigate the patterns of acquisition. Further, the children may be able to understand the non-interrogative question words before we can observe any production data from them. Consequently, we suggest that further experiment can by done on this topic using comprehension tasks rather than referring to production data.

 

Conclusion    

In this experiment, we tried to find out the acquisition of non-interrogative question words, more accurately, existential polarity question words (EPWs). Despite our relatively small sample size and the existing limitations, it still worth concluding that the acquisition of EPWs is much later than interrogative words which is about 6 to 7 years old. Moreover, there is also a general pattern for the acquisition involving different use of question words. The interrogative words are acquired before the EPWs in A not A questions, which is in turn before the EPWs in particle yes-no questions. Furthermore, we discovered the factors that affect the interpretation of non-interrogative sense of question words, namely, the syntax, pragmatics and semantics. Notwithstanding, there are many possible further investigations inspired by this project and we hope to have chance to have such further investigations on this topic.

Bibliography
Carnie, Andrew. (2007). Syntax: A Generative Introduction. 2nd edition. United Kingdom: Blackwell.

Cheung, A. (1995). Acquisition of wh- words by Cantonese-speaking children. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Cheung, A., Lee, T., Leung, S., Man, P., Szeto, K., Wong, C., & Wong, C. (1996). The development of grammatical competence in Cantonese-speaking children. Hong Kong.

Cheng, L. (1994). Wh- words as polarity items. Chinese Languages and Linguistics, 2, 615-640.

Li, Y. M., & Tang, Z. D. (1991). 《漢語兒童開句系統習得探微》[Han zu er tong wen ju xi tong xi de tan wei]. Wuchang: Hua zhong shi fan da xue chu ban she.

Lin, J. W. (1997). Polarity licensing and wh- phrase quantification in Chinese. Michigan: UMI.

Lin, J. W. (2004) Choice functions and scope of existential polarity wh-phrases in Mandarin Chinese. Linguistics and Philpsophy, 27(4), 451-491.

Wu, Y. Q. (2002). 《漢語兒童開句系統習得探微》[Syntax and semantics of wh- words]. Changsha shi: Hunan Tiao yu chu ban she.

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