Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Virginia Valian

Subject Categories

First and Second Language Acquisition | Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics | Semantics and Pragmatics


Heritage grammars, Mandarin, psycholinguistics, aspectual coercion processing, language dominance


Recent work in heritage language grammars has shown variability in L1 competence, despite high proficiency in both languages. While sources of variation have been debated, little attention has been given to the role of language dominance. This thesis uses a self-paced listening task to explicitly investigate the roles of language dominance and pragmatic competence in how heritage speakers of Mandarin Chinese process aspectual coercion in their non-dominant home language, as compared to late bilinguals. Specifically, constructions that vary in acceptability and salience in input between Mandarin and English are tested: Iterative coercion, complement event coercion of entity NPs, and perfective states.

Stimuli are presented auditorily and participants are given two comprehension tasks: 1) Temporal interpretation, and 2) Judgment of acceptability. Answers are compared to Mandarin-dominant late bilinguals’ judgments to derive accuracy and probability of accepting ungrammatical forms, while listening time is taken as a proxy for processing cost.

Temporal interpretation in Mandarin relies heavily on pragmatic inference while English marks tense and aspect mandatorily. In addition, resolution of aspectual mismatch has been theorized to be a function of pragmatic knowledge, which tends to be weakened in the heritage language. Thus far, no work has explicitly attempted to find psycholinguistic evidence for such claims. Participants are given a pragmatic competence task in Mandarin in order to test for a relationship with accuracy with correct choices on the temporal interpretation task.