Information structure and word order preference in child and adult speech of mandarin chinese

Jidong Chen (Corresponding Author), Bhuvana Narasimhan, Wing Shan Angel Chan, Wenchun Yang, Shu Yang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The acquisition of appropriate linguistic markers of information structure (IS), e.g., word order and specific lexical and syntactic constructions, is a rather late development. This study revisits the debate on language-general preferred word order in IS and examines the use of language-specific means to encode IS in Mandarin Chinese. An elicited production study of conjunct noun phrases (NPs) of new and old referents was conducted with native Mandarin-speaking children (N = 24, mean age 4;6) and adults (N = 25, mean age 26). (The age of children is conventionally notated as years;months). The result shows that adults differ significantly from children in preferring the “old-before-new” word order. This corroborates prior findings in other languages (e.g., German, English, Arabic) that adults prefer a language-general “old-before-new” IS, whereas children disprefer or show no preference for that order. Despite different word order preferences, Mandarin-speaking children and adults resemble each other in the lexical and syntactic forms to encode old and new referents: bare NPs dominate the conjunct NPs, and indefinite classifier NPs are used for both the old and the new referents, but when only one classifier phrase is produced, it is predominantly used to refer to the new referents, which suggests children’s early sensitivity to language-specific syntactic devices to mark IS.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Child language acquisition
  • Information structure
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Word order

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics


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