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LINGUIST List 24.145

Thu Jan 10 2013

Diss: Language Acquisition/ Czech: Vanek: 'A Linguistic Analysis of Event Conceptualisation Processes in First and Second Language Discourse'

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

Date: 09-Jan-2013
From: Norbert Vanek <norbert.vanekgmail.com>
Subject: A Linguistic Analysis of Event Conceptualisation Processes in First and Second Language Discourse
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Institution: Cambridge University
Program: PhD in English and Applied Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2013

Author: Norbert Vanek

Dissertation Title: A Linguistic Analysis of Event Conceptualisation Processes in First and Second Language Discourse

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Czech (ces)

Dissertation Director:
Henriette Hendriks

Dissertation Abstract:

Background: This dissertation examines conceptual reorganisation in L2 learners
by comparing event construal patterns in L1 and L2 discourse. Previous
research suggests that the way grammatical aspect is encoded in the speaker's
L1 can influence how events are conceptualised in their L2 (von Stutterheim &
Carroll 2006). Given the lack of consensus regarding partial (Bylund 2011)
versus zero (Schmiedtová et al. 2011) susceptibility to reorganising L1 event
construal patterns in L2, the present work contributes to the resonant discussion
in this area by investigating the extent to which grammatical aspectual operators
influence preverbal message generation (Levelt 1989, Habel & Tappe 1999) in
three typologically diverse L1 groups and four L2 groups. The main novel feature
of the employed approach is testing L2 learners’ ability to adjust L1 thinking-for-
speaking principles (Slobin 1996) in the target language by looking at four
conceptualisation processes abreast (i.e. segmentation, selection, structuring
and linearization).

Method: Film verbalisations and picture descriptions by Czech, Hungarian and
English native speakers; and Czech and Hungarian learners of English at basic
and advanced levels were elicited to test (a) whether crosslinguistic event
construal contrasts are attributable to the differences in the grammatical means
that are available for encoding temporality in particular languages; and (b)
whether learners’ degree of susceptibility to reorganising L1 principles for
temporal reference in the target language changes as a function of L2

Results: Analyses of L1 speakers’ and L2 learners’ discourse organisation
patterns produced three major results. Firstly, preferences in message encoding
typical of a given L1 proved closely interrelated with the aspectual operators
available in that L1. Secondly, the aspectual system of L1 was found to have an
impact on event construal choices in basic and also advanced level learners’ L2
production. And thirdly, consistent patterns across groups remained largely
unaffected by changes of modality (speech vs. writing), however, they showed
some sensitivity to task type (film retellings vs. picture descriptions).

Conclusions: These findings suggest that the processes of event
conceptualisation in L2 largely rest on L1 fundaments, and that persisting L1
principles can lead to significant digressions from target-like performance even in
highly advanced learner varieties. Sustained conformity to L1-specific patterns
found in all four processes challenges the view that L1 concepts are
reorganisable in favour of the L2 concepts (Athanasopoulos & Kasai 2011,
Papafragou et al. 2008). Instead, the findings are consistent with studies
reporting very limited or no traces of conceptual reorganisation in L2 (Hendriks et
al. 2008; von Stutterheim & Lambert 2005).

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