What makes a complement false? Looking at the effects of verbal semantics and perspective in Mandarin children's interpretation of complement-clause constructions and their false-belief understanding

Silke Brandt, Honglan Li, Angel Chan

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Research focusing on Anglo-European languages indicates that children's acquisition of the subordinate structure of complement-clause constructions and the semantics of mental verbs facilitates their understanding of false belief, and that the two linguistic factors interact. Complement-clause constructions support false-belief development, but only when used with realis mental verbs like 'think' in the matrix clause (de Villiers, Jill. 2007. The interface of language and Theory of Mind. Lingua 117(11). 1858-1878). In Chinese, however, only the semantics of mental verbs seems to play a facilitative role in false-belief development (Cheung, Him, Hsuan-Chih Chen & William Yeung. 2009. Relations between mental verb and false belief understanding in Cantonese-speaking children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 104(2). 141-155). We argue that these cross-linguistic differences can be explained by variations in availability and usage patterns of mental verbs and complement-clause constructions across languages. Unlike English, Mandarin-Chinese has a verb that indicates that a belief might be false: yi3wei2 '(falsely) think'. Our corpus analysis suggests that, unlike English caregivers, Mandarin-Chinese caregivers do not produce frequent, potentially unanalyzed, chunks with mental verbs and first-person subjects, such as 'I think'. In an experiment, we found that the comprehension of complement-clause constructions used with yi3wei2 '(falsely) think', but not with jue2de2 'think', predicted Mandarin children's false-belief understanding between the ages of 4 and 5. In contrast to English, whether mental verbs were used with first- or third-person subjects did not affect their correlation with false-belief understanding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-132
Number of pages34
JournalCognitive Linguistics
Volume34
Issue number1
Early online date13 Feb 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2023

Keywords

  • chunks
  • complement clauses
  • cross-linguistic
  • false belief
  • verbal semantics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language

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