Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/13/2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Second Language Acquisition

First Advisor

Chuanren Ke


This study investigates the acquisition of Chinese connectives by second language learners under the theoretical framework of usage-based theory. Language is not a random set of words and phrases, but rather a coherent and cohesive set of utterances. As such, learning a second language (L2) entails, among other processes, learners’ development of employing cohesive devices to construct a coherent discourse in their target language. One type of cohesive devices frequently used by L2 learners is connectives. In Chinese, connectives are utilized to denote various semantic relationships between the clauses in a compound sentence. Due to their flexibility and complexity in nature, Chinese connectives present a huge challenge to L2 learners’ learning. However, to date no study has been set up to explore the learners’ development of Chinese connectives within L2 Chinese research community.

This study aims to fill this gap in the literature and build an L2 acquisitional model of Chinese connectives under the theoretical framework of Constructionist Usage-based Theory. Constructionist Usage-based Theory maintains that the basic unit of language is constructions and that the syntactic and lexical form of constructions and its corresponding semantic and discourse functions are conventionalized in language usage. According to these notions, language learning is believed to be driven by the factors grounded in the form and function of constructions in language usage. This study specifically examines how the factors of frequency, form, function, contingency (interaction of form and function), and L1-tuned attention affect L2 Chinese learners’ development of Chinese connectives. Furthermore, the study investigates the learners’ knowledge about the distribution of Chinese connectives across different proficiency levels.

Specifically, this study aims to address four research questions: (1) what is the relationship between L2 learners’ proficiency level and language background and the acquisition of Chinese connectives?; (2) do L2 learners overuse or underuse Chinese connectives in constructing responses when the other in a pair is given and what errors do L2 learners make when using Chinese connectives?; (3) how can 12 target pairs of Chinese connectives be categorized into (hierarchical) groups based on L2 Chinese learners’ performance?; and (4) how do theoretically-motivated models represent the factorial structure underlying L2 acquisition of Chinese connectives?

To address the four research questions, this study elicited L2 Chinese learners’ performance in two tests: a mini-discourse completion test and a form-function association test. In the mini-discourse completion test, learners were required to supply a missing clause to complete a three-clause discourse in which one of paired connectives was embedded; in the form-function association test, learners were asked to choose options of paired connectives to link two given clauses where connectives were omitted.

Results showed that the development of all Chinese paired connectives was positively correlated to L2 learners’ L2 proficiency level. Learners with heritage language background seemed to have an advantage over less frequent and less prototypical connectives. Predominantly, L2 learners underused Chinese connectives, resulting from the cross-linguistic influence of disparity between English and Chinese connectives at the structural level in particular and between English and Chinese textual cohesion at the discourse level in general. Based on L2 learners’ performances in the two tests, the 12 pairs of Chinese connectives were classifier into four hierarchical groups. Confirmatory factor analyses showed that the usage-based factors (i.e., frequency, co-occurrence strength, formulaicity, prototypicality, contingency, and L1-tuned attention) jointly determined the L2 acquisition and development of Chinese connectives in a complex, adaptive, dynamic manner. Summarizing these findings, this study proposed a usage-based acquisitional model of L2 Chinese connectives, providing theoretical contributions to the usage-based theory and pedagogical implications for Chinese connectives.


Chinese Connectives, Discourse Grammar, Second Language Acquisition, Usage-based Theory


xii, 262 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 239-262).


Copyright © 2017 Yuan Lu

Available for download on Saturday, July 13, 2019