Document Type


Date of Degree


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Second Language Acquisition

First Advisor

Ke, Chuanren


The Chinese perfective aspect marker le is one of the most challenging yet very important grammatical features for learners of Chinese as a foreign language (CFL). Based on the observation that there was a lack of width in the study of this feature in the earlier research, the current study presents a new perspective at the discourse level to achieve a more in-depth understanding of the acquisition of le. In response to the obvious need to obtain data on the acquisition of this linguistic feature with a global view, the current thesis study starts with the discourse functions of le, and eventually providing an encompassing guideline in learning le at the prosodic, syntactic, semantic and discourse level in linguistics. Three instruments (UI Placement Test-Grammar Section, Knowledge Test, and Production Test) were administered to 95 American college CFL learners of four different proficiency levels and to 30 native speakers of Chinese as controls. Test scores from the Knowledge Test go through statistic analysis, and the language data collected from the Production Test are analyzed qualitatively so as to generalize patterns in association with the usage of le. Analysis of data indicates that there is a linear relationship between the increase in the knowledge of le in discourse and the advancement of learners' instructional level. In the production data, learners at the beginning and intermediate levels use Sed-le with the highest frequency, in comparison with their use of Ant-le and Pk-le, whereas learners at the advanced level use Pk-le with the highest frequency. Learners at the beginning and intermediate levels also tend to use le in the first SENTENCE more often than at the advanced level. There is also a missing pattern of the so-called "double-le" in both learner and native speakers' production data. In addition, there are patterns that native speakers use, but are not observed in learners' production data. Based on these research results, it is hypothesized the process of acquiring this challenging grammatical feature le be governed by principled interactions at the prosodic, syntactic, semantic, and discourse levels.


199 pages


Copyright 2006 Lixia Ma