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Zhao, Shouhui
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Policy makers have acknowledged that the Chinese language (CL) proficiency of Singapore’s Chinese children is diversified due to the different exposure to CL use at home (CLRC, 1999; CLCPRC, 2004; MTLRC, 2010), and there is an urgent need to understand the differences among Chinese children’s CL competence and their home language background. However, studies on child language in Singapore are mostly done from a psychometric testing tradition (e.g., Chong, 1999; Dixon, 2004; Soh, 1987) whereby studies using real-time oral data are rare. Therefore, this study attempts to examine and compare Singaporean Chinese preschoolers’ Mandarin competence in relation to their home-language exposure with real-time data from the Singapore Children Spoken Mandarin Corpus (SCSMC).

Drawing upon the theory of bilingual continuum of Valdés (2001), this study advances an analytical framework, namely the "Continua of Mandarin Exposure and Competence" that encapsulates the Mandarin competence of the general Singaporean Chinese-English bilingual children in relation to their Mandarin exposure. This framework hypothesises that the children’s Mandarin exposure is positively correlated with their linguistic competence in terms of lexical diversity (LD) and syntactic complexity (SC), and negatively correlated with their alternative communicative competence in terms of code-switching (CS) to English.

To prove the hypothesis, oral language data of 80 Chinese preschoolers were drawn from the SCSMC and processed by means of automated lexical segmentation, Parts-of Speech (PoS)-tagging, and manual annotation of syntactic and code-switching categories. The differences in Mandarin proficiency of four different groups of children, who represented four typical home-language backgrounds from predominately Englishspeaking homes to predominantly Mandarin-speaking homes, were compared in light of their home-language exposure. This study found that there were differences in lexical and syntactic competence among the four comparedhome-language groups. These differences of linguistic competence were found to be statistically significant, and significant positive correlations were found among the indices with increased Mandarin exposure. Communicative competence differences were also found to be statistically significant among the four home-language groups, in particular, significant negative correlations were found on the CS indices with increased Mandarin exposure.

With the various correlations established, the link between home-language exposure and language competence was established. The statistical results of the LD, SC and CS have shown that there are differences in Mandarin proficiency between or among Singapore’s Chinese children as a result of the degree of exposure to different home-language backgrounds. Singapore’s Chinese children's Mandarin competence can be considered a continuum of English and Mandarin with a tendency of moving either towards the end of English or towards the end of Mandarin, but it is difficult to distinguish one from the other in terms of their Mandarin competence. In particular, children who are bilingually more exposed to both Mandarin and English are the most unpredictable in the continua as their complex exposure to the two languages intricately affects their Mandarin competence. Their volubility in Mandarin competence distinguishes them remarkably from their counterparts at the extreme ends of the continuum, while it is not different from their counterparts somewhere in the middle of the continua.
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PL1074.8 Goh
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Appears in Collections:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

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