The Functions of the Nontarget Be in the Written Interlanguage of Chinese Learners of English

Suying YANG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Through examining all instances of the nontarget be before verbs in the written interlanguage of Chinese learners at different proficiency levels, the present study reveals that nontarget be performs different functions, and there is a function shift from low to high proficiency levels. At the lowest levels, be is used more as a general filler for different functional categories in INFL (inflection). As the proficiency level increases, be becomes more specialized in marking tense/voice. Finally at the highest level, be only performs the function of marking passive voice of unaccusative verbs. It is argued that the different functions of nontarget be derive from different sources: deficient knowledge of surface verbal morphology and learnability problems posed by the marked argument alignment of unaccusative verbs. It is further argued that the function shift is strong proof that wrong instantiation of functional categories will disappear when knowledge of verbal morphology increases, but the learnability problem posed by the unusual semantics-syntax mapping of unaccusative verbs will persist into advanced developmental stages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-303
Number of pages25
JournalLanguage Acquisition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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