Journal of Universal Language
Sejong University Language Research Institue

The Aspect Marker -Le in Early Child Mandarin

Hsiang-Hua Chang1,
1Oakland University
Corresponding Author : Hsiang-Hua Chang, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Oakland University Rochester, Michigan 48098, United States of America. Phone: 12483704248; Email:

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Aug 31, 2012; Revised: Dec 23, 2012; Accepted: Jan 17, 2013

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


Cross-linguistically, researchers have found a distributional bias of tense/aspect markers in child languages, namely, children initially use past or perfective morphology with telic predicates and use present or progressive morphology with atelic predicates. One attempt to explain this phenomenon is the Prototype Account, which argues that children acquire a linguistic category starting with the prototype of the category and later extend its application to less prototypical cases (Shirai & Andersen 1995). Based on the English data, they argue that children do not distinguish between past/perfective and telicity, which is the prototype for category past and category perfective.

This study presents evidence from Mandarin data of two young children, which supports the distributional bias found in the older children in Li (1990), but opposes the Prototype Account given the fact that Mandarin-speaking children do not have a macro-category of past/perfective/telic marked by the perfective

-le. The finding argues for (i) a separation between past and perfective/telic and a separation between perfective and telic in child Mandarin, (ii) the necessity to distinguish perfective -le from sentence final le, (iii) the legitimacy to treat Mandarin adjectives as stative verbs, and (iv) the importance to examine verbs appearing in their basic forms without aspect markers.

Keywords: Mandarin Chinese; language acquisition; aspect; spontaneous speech



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