LINGUIST List 14.397

Sun Feb 9 2003

Review: Applied Linguistics: Salaberry & Shirai (2002)

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  1. Asya Pereltsvaig, The L2 Acquisition of Tense-Aspect Morphology

Message 1: The L2 Acquisition of Tense-Aspect Morphology

Date: Sat, 08 Feb 2003 20:40:00 +0000
From: Asya Pereltsvaig <asya_pereltsvaighotmail.com>
Subject: The L2 Acquisition of Tense-Aspect Morphology

Salaberry, Rafael and Yasuhiro Shirai, eds. (2002) The L2 Acquisition
of Tense-Aspect Morphology. John Benjamins. Hardback ISBN
90-272-2495-1 (Eur.) / 1-58811-217-9 (US).

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-2963.html


Asya Pereltsvaig, California State University Long Beach

This volume is a collection of papers presented at a colloquium on
''Description and explanation in L2 acquisition of tense-aspect
morphology: complementary perspectives'' at the 21st Annual Meeting of
American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL), with several
additional contributions. The papers in this volume deal with the
issues related to second language (L2) acquisition of tense and aspect
(T&A) morphology, and cover a wide variety of languages, including
English, Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese and Japanese. The papers
also represent a variety of theoretical approaches ranging from
generative grammar to functional-typological linguistics. In addition,
the volume provides a review of first language (L1) acquisition
research on T&A. Although the main focus of the volume is on the
theoretical conclusions that can be drawn from the research,
methodological issues involved in such research are attended to as
well. Overall, this book is a great contribution to the field and will
be of interest to both theoretical linguists interested in tense and
aspect and applied linguists who study L2 acquisition.

In the remainder of this review, I will briefly summarize each paper
and give critical comments where appropriate. The general evaluation
follows at the end of the review.

The volume opens with an introductory chapter ''L2 acquisition of
tense-aspect morphology'' written by the editors, Rafael Salaberry and
Yasuhiro Shirai. In this chapter, they provide a comprehensive
overview of the issues addressed in the rest of the volume, as well as
the controversies involved. It must be noted that the authors do a
good job in clarifying the terminological confusion that exists in the
field of aspectology, providing definitions of key concepts and
addressing the reasons that led to this confusion. They also alert the
reader to some potential methodological sources of discrepancy among
the findings in the other chapters of the volume.

The rest of the volume may be divided into two parts: five
introductory chapters which address general issues and review previous
research in the field, followed by 10 empirical studies that present
results of the authors' recent research.

Chapter 2 by Richard Weist provides a review of the findings in the
field of L1 acquisition of T&A. This review is particularly relevant
since much of the research in L2 acquisition of T&A came after and was
largely based on the research in the L1 acquisition field. Just like
the volume itself, the review of L1 acquisition covers studies in a
variety of theoretical frameworks ranging from functional-cognitive to
generative approaches. In addition, Weist compares the main findings
in L1 and L2 acquisition, and points out the differences (e.g., L2
learners acquiring tense before aspect) and similarities (both
acquisition patterns being congruent with the Aspect Hypothesis). In
this way, this review chapter sets out the goals for the rest of the
chapters in the volume.

Chapter 3 ''The dimensions of pastness'' by Roger Andersen provides an
overview of his earlier work and updates it with Expanded Aspect
Hypothesis. He discusses six factors that determine the acquisition
of T&A: (1) verb semantics (i.e., Vendlerian verb classes), (2) event
type (i.e., unitary vs. habitual or iterative events), (3)
realis/irrealis, (4) pragmatic role, (5) grounding, and (6) discourse
structure. As can be seen from this list, Andersen highlights the role
of pragmatic factors (at least three factors in the list involve
pragmatics). Thus, it is not surprising that Andersen advocates a
discourse-functional perspective on L2 acquisition. What remains to be
seen is how to implement Andersen's call for ''a more rigorous
research methodology that allows us to tease apart these six
dimensions in our predictions'' (p. 102).

Chapter 4 ''Temporal relations in learner varieties:
Grammaticalization and discourse construction'' by Colette Noyau
starts out with the observation that in the early stages of L2
acquisition learners can and do mark temporality with means other than
inflectional morphology (e.g., adverbials, narrative sequences,
etc.). This observation leads her to ask the question of what
motivates learners to go beyond this (arguably) communicatively
successful strategy of marking temporality. Noyau's claim is that
learners go through a stage of systematic uncertainly at which three
types of hypotheses ' lexical, semantic and discourse ' are competing
with each other. In other words, specific verbal endings can be
associated alternatively with specific verb types, specific temporal
concepts or specific discursive structures. Noyau builds of Bates and
MacWhinney's (1989) competition model to show how these conflicts
are resolved with illustrative examples from L2 acquisition of French.

Chapter 5 ''Analyzing aspect'' by Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig alerts the
reader to important methodological issues involving the Aspect
Hypothesis, one of the central hypotheses in the literature on the
acquisition of T&A. She outlines two main approaches to calculating
form-meaning correlations, the so-called across-category method (which
asks the question of which morphological form is correlated with which
semantic types of the verbs) and the so-called within-category method
(which asks which semantic types of verbs are marked by which
morphological form). She reanalyzes data from two previous studies
(including one of her own) from both perspectives and shows that,
surprisingly, the two approaches need not lead to the same
conclusions.

The second part of the volume begins with Alex Housen's contribution
''The development of tense-aspect in English as a second language and
the variable influence of inherent aspect''. This chapter provides a
comprehensive report on a large-scale study of L2 acquisition of
English by two L1 groups of learners (French and Dutch). The point of
departure for this study is the Aspect Hypothesis, which Housen claims
to be only partially supported by his study. Furthermore, he discusses
other factors that are at play in the L2 acquisition of T&A, including
L1 interference, properties of the specific markers in the input
language (frequency, saliency, transparency, etc.), morphological
regularity and processing mechanisms. He highlights the importance of
the distinction between regular and irregular morphology, which has
played an important role in the study of L1 acquisition of T&A, as
well as in the study of aphasic patients.

Chapter 7 ''The aspect hypothesis in naturalistic L2 acquisition: What
uninflected and non-target-like verb forms in early interlanguage tell
us'' by Andreas Rohde provides yet another counterexample to the
Aspect Hypothesis. Much like Housen, Rohde studies child L2
acquisition of English (his subjects are German-speakers); his results
do not necessarily support the predictions of the Aspect
Hypothesis. Consequently, Rohde proposes to replace the absolute
Aspect Hypothesis (which can be either supported or rejected) with
''aspectual effect'' (which admits varying degrees of
strength). Finally, Rohde proposes to refocus the attention of the
research from looking for evidence supporting the Aspect Hypothesis to
investigating conditions under which the ''aspectual effect'' can be
suspended.

Picking up threads from chapters 6 and 7, Sonia Rocca's contribution
''Lexical aspect in child second language acquisition of temporal
morphology: A bidirectional study'' investigates child L2 acquisition
in light of the Aspect Hypothesis. Unlike the other contributions in
the volume, this chapter involves a bidirectional study of
English-speaking children acquiring Italian and Italian-speaking
children acquiring English. Her results seem to support the Aspect
Hypothesis, by indicating that inherent lexical aspectual classes
constrain the acquisition of verb morphology. It would be interesting
to see whether a different methodological approach (as discussed in
Bardovi-Harlig's contribution) would bring Rocca's results more in
line with Housen's and Rohde's conclusions that the Aspect
Hypothesis is not supported by child L2 acquisition patterns.

Chapter 8 ''How do learners acquire the classical three categories of
temporality?'' by Anna Giacalone-Ramat adds to our understanding of L2
acquisition of Italian by investigating adult learners'
interlanguage. Two L1 groups of L2 learners are considered: German
speakers and English speakers; interesting differences emerge between
these two groups. English speakers appear to overextend the use of the
Imperfect to perfective situations, whereas German speakers identify
both Imperfect and Passato Prossimo as markers of the past tense
only. This leads the author to a discussion of L1 interference
effects. An analysis in terms of prototype theory is developed within
the functional approach to acquisition. The results of
Giacalone-Ramat's study largely support the Aspect Hypothesis.

Chapter 10 ''Information structure in dialogic future plans: A study
of Italian native speakers and Swedish preadvanced and advanced
learners of Italian'' by Eva Wiberg continues with the theme of L2
acquisition of Italian; however, her subjects are L1 speakers of
Swedish. She investigates their ''procedural knowledge'' (knowledge
stored in working memory and useful for ''on-line'' speech production)
and compares it to that of native speakers of Italian. Her results
show that even fairly advanced L2 learners exhibit shortcomings in
procedural knowledge in the context of quick tense changes linked to
future reference. Furthermore, Wiberg claims that this deficit in
procedural knowledge limits the L2 learners to the use of prototypical
telic verbs at the expense of other verb types. This raises the
following important methodological issue: to what extent research on
the correlation between verb types and acquisition of T&A morphology
is biased by the limitations in the data due to the learners'
strategies in coping with their grammatical shortcomings. This issue
has been addressed by Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig in her recent
presentation at the Workshop on Syntax, Semantics and Acquisition of
Aspect (University of Iowa, May 2002). However, it will be nice to see
more research on this issue in the future.

Chapter 11 ''Reference to past events in dialogue: The acquisition of
tense and aspect by advanced learners of French'' by Maria Kihlstedt
investigates data from Swedish L1 speakers as well; however, she focus
is on L2 French learners. Unlike much of the research in this area,
Kihlstedt's study concentrates on learners in the advanced end of the
learning continuum. One of her goals is to establish criteria that can
distinguish between ''more advanced'' and ''less advanced'' learners
all of whom use past tense morphology ''in a virtually systematic
way'' (p. 323). The main criteria that Kihlstedt identifies is the use
of Imparfait: less advanced learners use it only with states, whereas
more advanced learners extend it to dynamic verbs as well. This
developmental feature is shown to correlate nicely with other
features, including overuse of Passe Compose, use of non-target-like
base forms, use of pluperfect and lexical variation of verbs. This
research has interesting implications for language pedagogy as well as
for linguistic theory.

Like the previous chapter, ''On viewpoint aspect interpretation and
its L2 acquisition: A UG perspective'' by Roumyana Slabakova and
Silvina Montrul focuses on advanced learners. Their subjects are
English speakers learning Spanish. The authors adopt the UG
perspective on acquisition and, unlike much of the research in the
field, investigate comprehension of aspect rather than its
production. The experiment centered around the learners' intuitions
about sentences that validate the semantic entailments associated with
either Preterite or Imperfect. The main conclusion is that English
speakers are capable of acquiring the semantic contrast of Spanish
viewpoint aspect, which is not instantiated in their native
language. Interestingly, the results do not provide a strong support
for one the main tenets of the Aspect Hypothesis, namely that the
semantic aspectual contrast for past tense is represented earlier
among telic events than among statives. This particular result may be
an artifact of the methodology and the subject pool involved in this
study.

The theme of L2 acquisition of Spanish is continued in chapter 13,
''Tense and aspect in the selection of Spanish past tense verbal
morphology'' by Rafael Salaberry. His main conclusions is that the
effect of lexical aspectual semantics on the choice of past tense
markers in L2 Spanish is not as strong with intermediate learners as
with advanced learners. This relates nicely with Rohde's proposal that
the Aspect Hypothesis should be replaced with ''aspectual effect'',
which can be more or less perceptible depending on various factors. If
Salaberry's findings are correct, one such factor will be the level of
proficiency in L2.

The final two chapters analyze data from the acquisition of
non-Indo-European languages. Chapter 14, ''The acquisition and use of
perfective aspect in Mandarin'' by Patricia Duff and Duanduan Li,
focuses on the perfective marker ''-le'' in Mandarin
Chinese. Interestingly, the results depend on the methodology chosen:
in oral narratives L2 learners tend to undersupply the perfective
marker, whereas in a written editing task they both under- and
oversupply the marker. Duff and Li identify several factors which are
involved in the acquisition of aspect in L2 Mandarin, including
inherent aspect, instructional variables and L1 transfer.

Chapter 15 ''The prototype hypothesis of tense-aspect acquisition in
second language'' by Yasuhiro Shirai focuses on L2 acquisition of
Japanese. The starting point for this paper, as for many other papers
in this volume, is the Aspect Hypothesis, which predicts a correlation
between inherent aspect and the choice of tense-aspect markers in
learners' interlanguage. According to Shirai, the Aspect Hypothesis is
only one part of a larger picture, whereby various prototypical
form-meaning associations play a role in determining the pattern of
acquisition. Inherent aspect is only one such prototype association;
another one considered in detail in this paper is habituality, which
interacts with inherent aspect in terms of past tense marking and
durative aspect marking. The spreading activation model of speech
production is applied to account for the data.

Overall, this volume is a great contribution to the field of L2
acquisition of tense and aspect. The articles in this book cover a
diverse range of topics from a variety of theoretical
perspectives. Yet, the authors adhere to a common theme, and certain
issues (e.g., the nature of the Aspect Hypothesis) come up in several
of the papers. One topic that could have been addressed in more detail
in a volume like this is the role of explicit instruction in the
acquisition of tense and aspect. Although several contributions report
on studies involving instructed learners (chapters 12-15), none of the
papers address the question of instructional input directly.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Asya Pereltsvaig teaches syntax and acquisition at California State
University Long Beach. She holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from McGill
University. In her research, she focuses on issues related to aspect,
both from a theoretical and an applied point of view. Currently, she
is investigating attrition of aspect among Russian immigrants.
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