Interpretation of Mandarin pronouns and reflexives by L1-Korean and L1-English learners of Mandarin

Chung Yu Chen, Tania Ionin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates (1) whether second language learners (L2ers) acquire the Mandarin system of pronouns and reflexives despite differences from their first languages (L1s) and (2) whether L1-English and L1-Korean L2ers differ due to L1-transfer. Unlike English, Mandarin and Korean allow long-distance (LD) reflexives. While himself/herself and the Mandarin equivalent taziji both require local readings, Mandarin ziji ‘self’ allows both local and LD readings. In Korean, caki and casin allow LD readings while caki-casin requires local readings. For pronouns, English him/her and Mandarin ta both disallow local readings while Korean ku/kunye allows them. These cross-linguistic differences lead to different transfer-based predictions for L1-Korean and L1-English L2-Mandarin learners. Sixty-two Mandarin native speakers, 42 L1-Korean L2ers, and 32 L1-English L2ers completed a picture-based Truth Value Judgment Task and a Mandarin proficiency test. Results show that proficiency-matched L2ers from both L1s predominantly allowed only local readings of ziji, suggesting that the local reading is the default option, and that Korean speakers do not transfer the properties of Korean simplex reflexives onto ziji, possibly because LD ziji is logophoric, while caki is not. Regarding ta, L1-Korean L2ers under-accepted LD readings and over-accepted local readings, a result that can be attributed to transfer, per Kim’s analysis that Rule I, posited by Grodzinsky and Reinhart, that regulates the distribution of pronouns is weak or absent in Korean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)941-968
Number of pages28
JournalSecond Language Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • Korean
  • Mandarin
  • binding
  • pronouns
  • reflexives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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