Research into China, Language Acquisition and Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language


China Seminars

SCI regularly invites academics and experts worldwide to give talks at 'China Seminars Series', about latest research in language studies, international relationships and economics, etc.

Seminar: Tag Questions as Coordination

It is claimed by Kayne (2016) that tags in English tag questions are phrases, not heads, which are merged with a silent head in syntax. Wiltschko and Heim (2016) argue against Kayne (2016) that some tags in English are heads, which can be analyzed on a par with Chinese-type sentence-final particles (SFPs). In this presentation, it is argued that all tags including those SFP-like tags in various varieties of English are phrases sitting in the internal conjunct of a coordinate structure, along the lines in Kayne (2016). To account for the lack of SFPs in English, it is proposed that the “hot-cool” division (cf. McLuhan 1964, Ross 1982, Huang 1984) may play a role in the linguistic differences of SFPs in such a way that Cantonese, Mandarin, and English are analyzed as “hot”, “medium-hot”, and “cool”, respectively. It is further argued that the “hot-cool” division of SFPs may be derived from the parametric variations of inflection and intonation of the main clause. Four types of languages with respect to the productivity of SFPs are expected to be found. Some interesting consequences of the typological theory proposed in this presentation will be explored.

About the Speaker
Sze-Wing Tang is Professor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Visiting Scholar in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received his BA and MPhil from The Chinese University of Hong Kong and PhD from the University of California, Irvine. His research interests lie primarily in syntax and comparative grammar.

How to Make Sense of Chinese Grammar? - a non-English biased view
was held at Workroom 2 - G05 in the Diamond, 4pm-5pm, Thursday 19th October 2017

Teaching Chinese grammar has been a challenging task. The mission of linguistic research is to help teaching and learning by characterizing the unique 'character' of Chinese and provide answers to the puzzling issues in the grammar so that learners can 'make sense' of the language. This study aims to look at Chinese as it is and analyze Chinese in a non-English biased way. It demonstrates how a function-based (Givon 1993, Fraizyngier 2016), constructional approach (Goldberg 1995, 2005) that aims to identify the form-meaning mapping constructs in Chinese can be revealing and helpful in teaching Chinese as a 2nd language. The crucial operators in the grammatical system are the grammatical morphemes and the associated constructional sequences which help define the semantic structure of Chinese grammar. Some functionally distinct 'morpho-constructions' in Chinese are illustrated below:
Constructional array in Chinese
a. Non-eventive predication:
    他吃苹果。  He eats apples.' (habitual, atemporal statement)
b. Eventive predication:
    他吃了苹果。 He ate apples.' (temporally actualized)
c. Evaluative predication:
    他很爱吃苹果。  He's quite fond of eating apples.' (scalar evaluation)
d. Assertive predication:
    他是爱吃苹果。 He indeed likes to eat apples.' (emphatic assertion)
e. Experiential predication:
    他吃过苹果。  He has eaten apples before.' (anterior experience)

The study will apply the morpho-constructional approach to the re-analysis of the core functions of the commonly used grammatical markers. A number of previous accounts will be shown to be inadequate and misleading in some ways that call for a simpler and easier-to-understand answer to all the puzzling issues in Chinese. It proposes that a functional constructional account of form-meaning mapping mechanisms can provide a principled and adequate explanation of the prototypical function and the diverse extended uses of the grammatical constructs in Chinese. After all, grammar -like musical form - has to make sense (Givon 1993).

Key Words: Form-Function Mapping Principles; Chinese Grammar; Morpho-constructional Approach; Grammatical Morphemes in Chinese

Professor Meichun Liu
Prof. Meichun Liu is currently the Head of the Department of Linguistics and Translation at City University of Hong Kong, and previously Professor in Linguistics at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures and the Graduate Institute of Linguistics, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. Her areas of expertise are in functional syntax, lexical semantics, corpus linguistics and cognitive linguistics. She has received consecutive research grants from Taiwan MOST for pioneering work on Mandarin verb semantics.

Prof. Liu received her PhD in Linguistics in 1993 from University of Colorado at Boulder with a Certificate in Cognitive Science, under the advising of Prof. B. Fox. She did her post-doctoral research in the Institute of Information Science in Academia Sinica, working closely with NLP and corpus linguists. She was then recruited by National Chiao Tung University as one of the founding faculty of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in 1994. She was also a Visiting Scholar at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Stanford University in 2012-13 and at the Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado at Boulder in 2000. She has also served at several administrative posts as the NCTU Director of International Exchange, the Library Dean, and the Department Chair. Dedicated to innovative teaching and research in English and Chinese, she established the Knowledge-based Corpus Study Center and served as the Coordinator of the Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language Certificate to promote interdisciplinary collaboration.

Professor Liu has won a number of significant awards in teaching and research, including three NCTU Excellent Teaching Awards (2015, 2014, 2010), NCTU Distinguished Academic Book Award (2013), Linguistics Society of Taiwan (LST) Thesis of the Year Award (2011), Pursuit of Excellency Research Grant Award (2007-2011). She has directed over 50+ graduate students and 5 of them won the LST thesis awards. She offered 9 OCW and 1 MOOC classes to promote public learning outside the campus.
Her class on the Communicative Functions of English is ranked #1 in popularity among all the OCW courses offered by NCTU. She has served as the Taiwan Higher Education Assessment Committee member, English Education Consultant of Hsinchu City, External Reviewer for Hong Kong Research Grant Council (2011-14), Excom Member of International Association of Chinese Linguistics (IACL), LST Board Member (2010-11), Section Editor for International Journal of Computational Linguistics & Chinese Language Processing (2009-13), as well as reviewer for a number of distinguished journals, such as Language, Journal of Pragmatics, Studies in Language, Language and Linguistics, and Journal of Chinese Linguistics.

Prof. Liu has led continuously MOST-funded research projects and published over 25 international journal papers, 15 book chapters and 3 books, including Mandarin Verbal Semantics and two best-sellers, Making Sense of English Grammar and Making sense of English Writing. As a functional linguist, she believes that linguistic research should help 'make sense' of languages and facilitate language-related applications and knowledge transfer.

Research into Language Acquisition

Working with the Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, SCI conducted research on the acquisition of Mandarin Chinese by heritage Mandarin and Cantonese speakers.

The project filled the gap for heritage language acquisition by school-age children and its research results have been publicised at various training courses and academic conferences. It has also led to further collaboration between the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the university of Sheffield.

Bilingual Infant Playgroup

SCI, together with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, will launch a bilingual infant playgroup (0-3 years old), carry out a research in language acquisition in the early years, and develop the curriculum and teaching materials.

For more information, contact:

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