Chapter One Introduction
1.1 Background of the Study
Language is a unique talent of human beings and has been studied for centuries.With the development of cognitive science, language studies have started to pay closeattention to the mental process of human language. Exploring the languagemechanism and identifying how language is represented and processed in the braincan help us better understand this god-given talent.Psycholinguistics, which deals with mental processes in language production,comprehension and acquisition, has become a major research area, since it directlyrefers to the inner mechanism of language. Language production, as a crucialprocedure, constructs an utterance and transforms a person’s thought to createlanguage forms by uttering an articulation. In order to achieve this, four stages areusually distinguished, i.e. conceptualizations, formulation, articulation, andself-monitoring. The production of language begins when a speaker has a certainintention to communicate with others an idea or pieces of information. Formulatingthe idea or information into a linguistic representation, one must go through a seriesof mental operations which involve both lexical generation and grammatical encoding.This means that the speaker should first select the proper words that can convey theintended meaning, and then arrange these words in order to form a grammatical andmeaningful sentence. However, the fact is that sometimes there is more than one validword order to express a particular thought. Which one should the speaker choose?Why? If we can identify the answer to these questions and the reasons, we could gainmore insight into the syntactic representation and processing in the languageformulation stage. Fortunately, there are ways to find out about these mechanismswhich may appear mysterious at first sight.A variety of previous studies have shown that speakers tend to repeat syntacticstructures they have just encountered before, either in production or comprehensionare employed in most of the previous studies (e.g. Bock & Loebell, 1990; Pickering &Branigan, 1998; Potter and Lombardi, 1990, 1998; Branigan, Pickering, & Cleland,1999). On the one hand, before the establishment of corpus research, natural languagedata is not very easy to obtain. It is a hard work requiring persistent collection, editingand classification. On the other hand, some linguists argued against corpus-basedapproaches to priming, by stating that there are several nonsyntactic factors whichcould lead to repetition. As Branigan once stated“There are several nonsyntactic factors which could lead torepetition…Corpora have proved useful as a means of hypothesisgeneration, but unequivocal demonstrations of syntactic priming effectscan only come from controlled experiments” (Branigan et al., 1995:492).However, recent studies (e.g. Calude & Miller, 2009; Gries, 2005; Szmrecsanyi,2005) have shown that the corpus-based results for syntactic priming of certainstructures are very similar to the experimental ones, thus providing a new direction forsyntactic priming research. This thesis will adopt the corpus investigation method toexplore what natural language flow reveals about syntactic representation andprocessing.The studies carried out here will in turn make some contribution to the teachingand learning process of EFL learners. By identifying the influence of a first languageon a second language, teachers can emphasize or avoid certain effects of syntacticstructure in second language sentence production, while at the same time, gettingcloser to the enormous research area of human language production and processing.
1.2 Objectives and Research Questions
Mandarin Chinese (Chinese hereafter) and English are two typologicallydifferent languages. For a native Mandarin Chinese speaker, speaking Englishinvolves the acquisition and activation of a different language system. This thesisexplores within-English syntactic priming effects in language productio