Research Interests

  • First language acquisition of syntax
  • Intervention Effects in child languages
  • Locality and (featural) Relativized Minimality
  • Argument structure
  • Long-distance dependency
  • VP domain and resultatives in Mandarin
  • Chinese languages

The Acquisition of Passives in L1 Mandarin

Cross-linguistically, children’s acquisition of passive sentences is delayed, with long passives – those in which the agent is expressed (e.g., ‘The mouse is chased by the cat’) – even more difficult for children to understand and/or produce than short passives (e.g., ‘The mouse is chased’). We aim to determine what causes these difficulties by examining the effects of grammar and language input in children’s passive acquisition in Mandarin, a language in which this construction is understudied and the sparse existing literature shows conflicting results on this topic.

This project contains a corpus study and two behavioral experiments. The corpus study is the first large-scale investigation on child Mandarin passives, investigating CHILDES (MacWhinney 2000) corpora from 1,182 children and their caretakers. The experiments investigate 3- to 6-year-olds’ comprehension of Mandarin long and short passives and test the predictions of the Intervention Hypothesis (e.g., Friedmann et al. 2009) based on the (featural) Relativized Minimality (e.g., Rizzi 1990, 2008), with respect to the role of morpho-syntactic features (in comparison with lexical features).

Project outputs:


  • Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant ($15,001) by the National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Dissertation Year Fellowship ($20,000) by UCLA

The Syntax and Acquisition of (Pseudo-)Sluicing in Mandarin

Sluicing refers to an elliptical structure in which only a wh-phrase is overt in a CP, as in “Someone left but I don’t know who”. In Mandarin, sluice-like strings (‘S-strings’) with argument wh-remnants require the presence of “shi” – a form that is ambiguous between a copula and a focus marker. My MA thesis proposes a hybrid analysis of Mandarin S-strings as having two possible derivations, a sluice and a pseudo-sluice, unless one of the structures is independently forced. When “shi” is a copula, the S-string has a pseudo-sluice analysis, [pro be wh-phrase], involving neither movement nor ellipsis. When “shi” is a focus marker, the S-string is derived by focus movement followed by TP-ellipsis yielding a sluice analysis.

Results from a comprehension experiment with 59 Mandarin-speaking children showed that 3-4-year-olds have only a pseudo-sluice/copula analysis of S-strings. They acquire the sluice/focus movement derivation at approximately age 5 at which point they show the “subject advantage” typically associated with A’-movement structures in young children due to the Intervention Effects.

Project outputs:


San Cristóbal Lachirioag Zapotec (Jan–July 2020)
I conducted fieldwork on a Zapotec language spoken in San Cristóbal Lachirioag, Oaxaca, Mexico in the Field Methods class at UCLA Linguistics with Prof. Harold Torrence (adviser), Prof. Pam Munro, Maddy Booth, Hironori Katsuda, Christine Prechtel, Iza Sola-Llonch, Andy Xu, and Z.L. Zhou.

Project outputs:

  • Liu, Minqi. 2021. Adverbial Clitics in San Cristóbal Lachirioag Zapotec. Poster presented at the 2021 Annual Meeting of Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA 2021), Online. [Presentation slides]
  • Liu, Minqi. 2020. Dependent and independent pronouns in San Cristóbal Lachirioag Zapotec. UCLA Manuscript [PDF]

Tonggu Gan Chinese (Summer 2016)
I participated in a dialect documentation project by Peking University on a Gan dialect spoken in Tonggu, Jiangxi, China. I worked closely with a local speaker for 56 hours on elicitation and collaborated with my cohort on a 150-page comprehensive description of the Gan variety in Tonggu. We also recorded, annotated, and digitized five long narrative stories by local speakers.

  • Collaborators: Prof. Mengbing Xiang (adviser), Yun Feng, Zhijia Ni, and Zhihao Wang.

Other projects

Deriving Mandarin bei-passives
This ongoing project looks into the different syntactic derivations of long and short bei-passives in Mandarin.

Project outputs:

  • Liu, Minqi. 2021. Rethinking raising vs. control analyses in Mandarin bei-passives. Talk given at the 33rd Meeting of the North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics (NACCL-33), UChicago (Online). [handout]

Phonological Adaptation in Code-switch between English and Mandarin
A-not-A refers to a Mandarin reduplication construction where the underlying form /RED-pu-A/ contains a reduplication of the first syllable in the base A. In this study I investigate the kinds of adaptations that occur when an English word serves as the base A in code-switching speech. Since the complex onsets and most codas allowed in English are illegal in Mandarin syllables, the reduplicated part is expected to adapt to Mandarin phonotactics to some degree.

I ran a production experiment where 20 native Mandarin-speakers were asked to produce A-not-A constructions with 55 mono- and multi-syllabic English words. Results from the experiment showed varied adaptation methods in syllable structure and tones. To model the results, I used the Maximum Entropy Harmonic Grammar (MaxEnt) with weighted constraints on syllable structure markedness and base-reduplicant faithfulness.