Study on Chinese English Learners’ Acquisition of Wh-Movement Constraints

Xinyue ZHANG, Xiaona WU, Yujiao PAN


This paper mainly investigates Chinese university students’ acquisition of constraints on English Wh-movement, with the aim of providing some evidence of the accessibility of universal grammar (UG) in second language acquisition (SLA). One UG principle, the Subjacency Principle, puts constraints on English Wh-movement and this is the major study point of the present study. The author selects a certain number of Chinese university students as participants and carries out a grammaticality judgment test. Since there does not involve Wh-movement in Chinese language, and Chinese students have no access to the Subjacency Principle during their daily studies, then if it happens that the subjects shows certain degree of obedience to this principle, a conclusion could be drawn that UG is still accessible and operative in SLA. Abroad, numerous linguistic researchers in the field of SLA have done studies concerning the Subjacency Principle, while in China, scarce similar studies have been made. The author firstly checks Chinese participants’ acceptance of grammatical long-distance Wh-movement and their rejection of ungrammatical Wh-movement with violations of the Subjacency principle, with the latter one as the major point. The discussion of the study is focused on the participant’s responses to varying degrees of Subjacency violations. The experimental results show that the Chinese subjects have demonstrated a certain degree of acceptance of the long-distance Wh-movement and of rejection of Subjacency violations. Therefore, the author concludes that UG is still available and operative in SLA,  while the extent to which it is accessible still requires to be further studied.


Universal grammar; Subjacency principle; Accessibility; Wh-movement

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