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 <>

Date: 02-Mar-2013
From: Anna Mikhaylova <>
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 andbilingual children acquiring Russian and adults acquiring Russian assecond/foreign language (Kazanina & Philips 2007, Anstatt 2008,Gupol 2009, Slabakova 2005, Nossalik 2009). Recent studies havealso shown that aspect may not be completely acquired by Russianheritage speakers (HL) of low and even near-native proficiency(Polinsky 2008, Laleko 2010). In my study, advanced proficiencyEnglish dominant HL foreign language (L2) speakers of Russian showan asymmetry in their comprehension of lexical and grammaticalaspect. I show that the semantics and syntax of aspect are acquired;however aspectual morphology plays both a facilitative and a hinderingrole in the comprehension of aspectual distinctions.

Two experimental tasks manipulated pairs of sentences differing inaspectual interpretation based on presence/absence of a telicizingprefix or presence/absence of an imperfectivizing suffix. The taskstested the same three conditions (perfective/imperfective pairscontrasting in lexical aspect (activity-accomplishment pairs) andgrammatical aspect contrasts in accomplishments and achievements).The tasks differed in the type of knowledge they tapped into. Thesemantic entailments (SE) task elicited most salient entailments ofsentences that provided no aspectual information except thatinstantiated by verbal morphology. The SE task was difficult from thepoint of view of semantics, because in order to find the most logicalinterpretation of the sentence, the participants needed to imagine allpossible interpretations of the sentence, even those potentiallyimposed by discourse. In contrast, the stop-making-sense (SMS) tasktested the participants’ sensitivity to mismatches between adisambiguating adverbial and the predicate. The sentences in the SMStask 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 complexityof secondary imperfectives coupled with their semantic complexity,hinders HL interpretations. In contrast, in the SMS task theidiosyncratic morphology marking lexical aspect hinders HL processing,while the regular mechanism of marking grammatical aspect facilitatesit. In addition, lexical aspect may be an exceptionally tight spot of theHL acquisition because of the mismatch between morphological meansof 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 tightspot in second language acquisition and acquisition of syntax andsemantics to be unproblematic. I propose, following Polinsky 2011, thatfunctional morphology can be seen as an acquisitional bottleneck forheritage language speakers as well. In addition, as Montrul 2009, Ihave found that heritage speakers have advantage over foreignlanguage learners in the acquisition of grammatical aspect, but notnecessarily of lexical aspect.

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