Selective vulnerability and dominant language transfer in the acquisition of the Chinese cleft construction by heritage speakers
This study investigates effects of selective vulnerability and dominant language transfer in heritage grammar. Mandarin Chinese has a shì…de cleft construction, which, despite its superficial similarities with the it-cleft in English, is subject to additional conditions. Four experimental tasks elicited eighteen adult heritage speakers’ implicit knowledge of the word order and the temporal, telicity and discourse conditions associated with the Chinese cleft. The heritage speakers demonstrated target-like representation of the conditions. Meanwhile, their sensitivity to the telicity and discourse conditions is weaker than that of native speakers in Beijing, suggesting selective vulnerability in the heritage grammar. By comparing the heritage speakers with adult second language learners of Chinese, we concluded that the vulnerability of the heritage grammar in the discourse domain did not result from cross-linguistic influence from English. In different types of Chinese-English bilinguals, the dominant language affects the weaker language in different ways.