Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Linguistics Program

Committee Chair

Tully Thibeau

Commitee Members

Cao Zhen, Leora Bar-el


classifiers, critical period hypothesis, fundamental differences hypothesis, language development, second language development, universal categories, universal semantics, Chinese, cognition


University of Montana


The context of this thesis is the long-debated issue of whether or not adult second language (L2) development is basically similar to child first language (L1) development. The thesis approaches the issue through research dealing with L1 acquisition of Chinese classifiers and a pilot study of L2 adult classifier acquisition. First, evidence that children acquire specific classifiers earlier than measure classifiers is discussed and explained in light of existing language learning theories. With the aim of providing comparable data regarding L2 adult classifier acquisition a pilot study was conducted in which nine adult English-speaking learners of Chinese were tested on their production of both specific and measure classifiers. The results show that L2 adults overgeneralized use of the general classifier ge in a way similar to L1 children, suggesting that both L1 and L2 learners are aware of the syntactic requirement for classifiers, but avoid semantic complexities related to shape and other perceptual features. Despite this apparent similarity, L2 adults differ from L1 children in that they develop measure classifiers more successfully than specific classifiers, indicating that the underlying process of classifier acquisition is influenced by L1 knowledge and cognitive maturation. Overall, these findings provide support for the argument that fundamental differences between L1 child and L2 adult acquisition exist, shed light on methods for successful classifier instruction, and open the door for further exploration into L2 development of classifier languages.



© Copyright 2010 Jiang Song Gong