Research

My research projects lie in three areas under second language acquisition and bilingualism:

  1. Adult L2 Chinese: Functional categories in adult second language (L2) speakers of Chinese, aspect markers, focus-sensitive particles and grammatical constructions subject to multi-level interface conditions (e.g. ba, bei, topic and cleft)
  2. Heritage Chinese: Development, ultimate attainment and attrition of the grammatical system in heritage language speakers of Chinese across the life span
  3. Childhood multilingualism: Simultaneous and sequential development of two or more languages involving Chinese and English in infants and preschool children

I explore these topics through a combination of corpus, experimental and statistical methods.

On-going projects

1. Acquisition of Chinese in English contexts: the Child Heritage Chinese Corpus (with Virginia Yip and Stephen Matthews)

This project documents the language development of American-born Chinese children, who were exposed to their heritage language Chinese (Mandarin and/or Cantonese) at home, and the societal majority language English at school and at home. The corpus currently contains data from three children: Luna, Avia and Winston. An innovative feature of this corpus is the use of web-based methods (Skype) to collect the American children’s speech data. Transcripts and corresponding audio files have been deposited in CHILDES. Data from more heritage Chinese children and English-Mandarin bilingual children in Hong Kong (control group) are being collected and added to the Corpus.

2. Trilingual first language acquisition: the Leo Corpus (with Virginia Yip)

The Leo Corpus documents the simultaneous development of Mandarin, Cantonese and English in a Hong Kong child from 1;06-2;11. The family introduced an innovative “one day-one language” model on top of the “one parent-one language” system, in which the father and the grandmother spoke Mandarin to the child consistently, whereas the mother began to interact with the child in English every other day in a week and Cantonese the rest of the days. Leo successfully acquired the three languages to age-appropriate levels by 2;11. We are exploring the possibility to apply Leo’s acquisition model to other families in Hong Kong and Guangdong.

3. Development and sustainability in school-aged heritage speakers of Chinese (with Lucy Zhao)

This project elicited bilingual or trilingual narratives from school-aged heritage speakers of Chinese living in England. Their parents also contributed Mandarin/Cantonese narratives as comparison. A number of grammatical structures, including the ba-construction, the passive construction, resultative verb compounds (RVC), null objects, prepositional phrases and aspect markers have been examined. Manuscripts are in preparation or under review.

4. Interpreting and processing focus and presupposition by native and non-native speakers of Mandarin (with Yang Zhao and Boping Yuan)

This project makes use of off-line tasks and on-line eye-tracking techniques to investigate when and how grammatical presupposition and assertion are processed by native and non-native speakers of Mandarin in real-time comprehension tasks. Pilot studies have been carried out.

 

Research grants

  • Realizing children’s potential in language development: input and intervention (CUHK Knowledge Transfer Project Fund, 2018-2020, PI: Virginia Yip, Co-I: Ziyin Mai)
  • Trilingualism in early childhood: production and comprehension (CUHK Direct Grant 2016-2017, PI: Ziyin Mai, Co-I: Xiangjun Deng)
  • Conducting language acquisition experiments: a multimedia interactive learning platform (CUHK Courseware Development Grant 2015-2016, PI: Ziyin Mai)
  • Childhood bilingualism and heritage language development (CUHK Direct Grant 2015-2016, PI: Virginia Yip, Co-I: Ziyin Mai)