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LINGUIST List 24.1082

Sun Mar 03 2013

Diss: Lang Acq/English/Russian: Mikhaylova: '(In)complete Acquisition of Aspect in Second Language and Heritage Russian'

Editor for this issue: Lili Xia <lxialinguistlist.org>

Date: 02-Mar-2013
From: Anna Mikhaylova <mikhaylouoregon.edu>
Subject: (In)complete Acquisition of Aspect in Second Language and Heritage Russian
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Institution: University of South Carolina
Program: Linguistics Program
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2012

Author: Anna Mikhaylova

Dissertation Title: (In)complete Acquisition of Aspect in Second Language and Heritage Russian

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            Russian (rus)

Dissertation Director:
Mila Tasseva-Kurktchieva
Stanley Dubinsky

Dissertation Abstract:

Russian Aspect is known to be problematic both for monolingual and
bilingual children acquiring Russian and adults acquiring Russian as
second/foreign language (Kazanina & Philips 2007, Anstatt 2008,
Gupol 2009, Slabakova 2005, Nossalik 2009). Recent studies have
also shown that aspect may not be completely acquired by Russian
heritage speakers (HL) of low and even near-native proficiency
(Polinsky 2008, Laleko 2010). In my study, advanced proficiency
English dominant HL foreign language (L2) speakers of Russian show
an asymmetry in their comprehension of lexical and grammatical
aspect. I show that the semantics and syntax of aspect are acquired;
however aspectual morphology plays both a facilitative and a hindering
role in the comprehension of aspectual distinctions.

Two experimental tasks manipulated pairs of sentences differing in
aspectual interpretation based on presence/absence of a telicizing
prefix or presence/absence of an imperfectivizing suffix. The tasks
tested the same three conditions (perfective/imperfective pairs
contrasting in lexical aspect (activity-accomplishment pairs) and
grammatical aspect contrasts in accomplishments and achievements).
The tasks differed in the type of knowledge they tapped into. The
semantic entailments (SE) task elicited most salient entailments of
sentences that provided no aspectual information except that
instantiated by verbal morphology. The SE task was difficult from the
point of view of semantics, because in order to find the most logical
interpretation of the sentence, the participants needed to imagine all
possible interpretations of the sentence, even those potentially
imposed by discourse. In contrast, the stop-making-sense (SMS) task
tested the participants’ sensitivity to mismatches between a
disambiguating adverbial and the predicate. The sentences in the SMS
task appeared one word at a time, with no backtracking possibility,
creating a high working memory load.

The findings suggest that in the SE task, the morphological complexity
of secondary imperfectives coupled with their semantic complexity,
hinders HL interpretations. In contrast, in the SMS task the
idiosyncratic morphology marking lexical aspect hinders HL processing,
while the regular mechanism of marking grammatical aspect facilitates
it. In addition, lexical aspect may be an exceptionally tight spot of the
HL acquisition because of the mismatch between morphological means
of marking specific lexical aspect English (object marking) and Russian
(verb marking). The findings are consistent with Bottleneck Hypothesis
(Slabakova 2008), which assumes functional morphology to be a tight
spot in second language acquisition and acquisition of syntax and
semantics to be unproblematic. I propose, following Polinsky 2011, that
functional morphology can be seen as an acquisitional bottleneck for
heritage language speakers as well. In addition, as Montrul 2009, I
have found that heritage speakers have advantage over foreign
language learners in the acquisition of grammatical aspect, but not
necessarily of lexical aspect.

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