The acquisition of Chinese resultative verbal complexes by L1 Italian learners: combining learner corpus and experimental data


The aim of this project is to investigate the acquisition of Chinese resultative verb complexes (RVCs, i.e. resultative compounds, phase resultative compounds, and directional complex verbs) by L1 Italian learners.
RVCs pose a challenge for L1 Italian learners of L2/LF Chinese due to their complexity (both from the morpho-syntactic and the semantic point of view) and the typological distance between Italian and Chinese in expressing this kind of events. For Italian learners of Chinese, acquiring structures which are either absent or very distant from those in their L1, as Chinese RVCs, is especially challenging.

The present project will answer the following research questions

  1. Are there any differences, in terms of quantity and quality, in the use of RVCs between L1 Chinese speakers and L1 Italian learners?
  2. What are the characteristics of the lexical development of RVCs by L1 Italian learners of L2/FL Chinese across different proficiency levels?
  3. What are the acquisition patterns of RVCs in L1 Italian learners’ production?
  4. What differences may be observed in the acquisition of different RVCs and what are the main sources of difficulty in the acquisition process?
  5. Is there a correlation between proficiency level and mastery of different RVCs?
  6. What is the role of typological distance and what kind of L1 transfer can be observed in the acquisition of RVCs?

We will adopt a mixed-method triangulated approach consisting in the combination and analysis of corpus data (to analyze learner performance) and experimental data (to investigate learner competence), in order to provide different insights into the phenomenon under study.

This approach will also lead to obtaining data as authentic as possible, thus strengthening the validity of the results and the interpretation of the data. 

After a thorough review of the literature on the topic and a preliminary analysis of the treatment of RVCs in teaching materials, we will collect written and oral data from L1 Italian learners of Chinese, divided by proficiency levels, enrolled at the two institutions involved in the project.

In addition, we will also collect data from L1 Chinese speakers, acting as a control group, for comparative purposes.

Expected results

One of the main results of the project will be the compilation of a learner corpus collecting both written and spoken data of L1 Italian learners of Chinese. Once compiled, the corpus will be made freely available online and will prove to be a valuable resource for anyone who needs a sample of data to investigate the acquisition of Chinese by L1 Italian speakers. In the past decade, there has been a significant surge of interest in Learner Corpus Research on L2/FL Chinese, reflecting a shift of attention to corpora of Chinese as a Second Language, with many methodological discussions on specific ways to improve corpus construction. However, there are only a handful of learner corpora of L2/FL Chinese (many of which are not freely accessible online), mainly based on written essays by advanced learners, while beginners and intermediate learners are underrepresented.

In addition, the currently available corpora are unbalanced and contain mostly data from Asian learners, especially Korean and Japanese, while much less data from speakers of European languages are available; data produced by L1 Italian learners are lacking. Furthermore, very few corpora incorporate L1 Chinese speakers’ data as an integral part of their design, which is important to identify specific features of L1-related errors or over/underuse patterns. Therefore, the compilation of a learner corpus of L2 Chinese that collects data of L1 Italian learners, also accompanied by the control group data, will contribute to fill this gap. Hopefully, this corpus will be a first step towards a systematic collection of L2 Chinese interlanguage data of L1 Italian learners.

After the compilation of the corpus, corpus and experimental data will be analyzed and interpreted. We will identify the acquisitional path of different RVCs followed by L1 Italian learners of Chinese and formulate generalizations, both at the descriptive and theoretical levels.

The results of this project will thus significantly contribute to Learner Corpus Research, and also to Second Language Acquisition research, providing a better description of interlanguage and a deeper understanding of the factors that influence it. The triangulated approach will allow us to outline a more complete picture of Italian learners’ interlanguage and its development. Such methodological approach is indeed one of the strong points of the project, as it overcomes some of the limitations in existing studies: 

  • it will rely on both written and spoken data (existing learner corpora mainly collect written data);
  • it will include L1 Chinese native speakers’ data for the purpose of comparison (control group data in existing learner corpora are very rare);
  • it will gather comparable groups of learners with different proficiency levels from the same institutions, since both institutions involved in the project offer BA and MA courses in Chinese (most existing corpora collect data from groups that are not always comparable);
  • contributors to the corpus and participants in the experiments will be the same (in current studies they are often different), enabling the study of the learners’ interlanguage across the two types of data. Specifically, the study will rely on data produced by the same learners in different situations, as they will be asked to complete both elicited and open-ended tasks.

The results of this project will also support research on Foreign Language Teaching. The number of learners of L2/FL Chinese in Italian schools and universities has been increasing rapidly over the years, posing the educational challenge of developing appropriate pedagogical tools. The results of this project aim at strengthening the empirical and scientific foundation of Chinese learning and teaching. In fact, the findings may provide a solid theoretical ground for the development of pedagogical tools and methods that will target the needs of Italian learners more effectively.

In particular, this research will assist language teachers, course designers, and textbook compilers in developing more effective tools for teaching Chinese resultative verb complexes. The rich understanding gained from this research, including the developmental patterns of different resultative verb complexes, as well as the errors made by learners at different proficiency levels, may provide crucial data for the selection, description, and outline of teaching sequencing of these structures. Finally, the learner corpus compiled may also be useful for data-driven learning approaches, whereby the teacher can ask students to search for examples of RVCs in the corpus and thus guide them to examine both the correct and erroneous patterns. This practice will bring several advantages to the learners’ acquisition process, as e.g., increasing the students’ attention span, increasing the number of language inputs, raising learners’ awareness, stimulating hypothesis formation.



Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

Roma Tre University