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The Syntax and Acquisition of Mandarin Sluice-like Constructions


Sluicing refers to an elliptical structure in which only a wh-phrase is overt in a CP, as in "Someone left. I don’t know who." In Mandarin, sluice-like strings (‘S-strings’) with argument wh-remnants require the presence of shi, a form that is ambiguous between a copula and a focus marker. This paper proposes a hybrid analysis of Mandarin S-strings as having two possible derivations, a sluice and a pseudo-sluice, unless one of the structures is independently forced. When shi is a copula, the S-string has a pseudo-sluice analysis, [pro be wh-phrase], involving neither movement nor ellipsis. When shi is a focus marker, the S-string is derived by focus movement followed by TP-ellipsis yielding a sluice analysis. Results from a comprehension experiment with 59 Mandarin-speaking children show that 3-4-year-olds have only a pseudo-sluice/copula analysis of S-strings. They acquire the sluice/focus movement derivation at approximately age 5 at which point they show the “subject advantage” typically associated with A’-movement structures in young children.

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