Tuesday, January 18, 2011


In contrast with both English and Italian, Chinese has no inflectional paradigms at all (e.g. no plural inflections on nouns or tense inflections on verbs). It does have function words and particles to convey some of the functions carried out by inflections in other languages.

However, these particles come in a single unalterable form, are optional in all but a handful of contexts, and most are homophones or near-homophones of the content words from which they were historically derived (e.g. past-tense particle “wan” also means “to finish”).

Despite the absence of case or agreement markers to indicate agent-object relations, word order is flexible in Chinese, and both subject and object can be omitted. As a result, a sentence literally translated as “Chicken eat” could mean “The chicken is eating” or “Someone is eating the chicken.”

Because of all these factors, Chinese listeners have to make flexible and rapid use of many different sources of information in sentence processing, including aspects of prosody, semantics and pragmatics that are less important in English or Italian.

Elizabeth Bates,
University of California, San Diego
Antonella Devescovi,
University of Rome 'La Sapienza'
Beverly Wulfeck,
San Diego State University and University of California, San Diego

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