Wednesday Lunch Talk--Prototypes in Chinese Speakers' Acquisition of English Tense-aspect Morphology
A presentation by Ming Tao, UCLA doctoral student in the Department of Asian Languages & Cultures
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
11377 Bunche Hall
In second language acquisition studies, the development of tense-aspect morphology has been found to be strongly influenced by the inherent aspect of the verbs (Bardovi-Harlig, 2002). According to the Prototype account (Shirai, 2002; Shirai & Andersen, 1995), this pattern of development should be attributed to learners’ prototype formation. Specifically, the prototype of the category past is characterized by [+telic], [+punctual], and [+result] whereas the prototypical features for progressive are [-telic] and [+durative]. This explains why second language learners tend to use past inflections with achievement verbs (which are telic and punctual) and progressive inflections with activity verbs (which are atelic and durative). The prototype account and the empirical studies behind it, however, have focused on the acquisition of past tense morphology. Few studies have examined the prototypical features involving the category PRESENT, and the contribution of tense in the acquisition of tense-aspect morphology has been largely ignored.
To address these inadequacies, this study examines the use of English tense-aspect morphology in both the past and the present temporal domains in a learner English corpus (Gui & Yang 2002) consisting of written English texts produced by adult Chinese speakers at three proficiency levels (i.e., junior high, second year college non-English major, and fourth year college English majors). Results show that 1) these Chinese learners tend to make more mistakes in the past temporal domain of atelic verbs (States and Activities) than they make in the present domain, but 2) they tend to make more mistakes in the present temporal domain of telic verbs (Accomplishment and Achievements). In addition, when they use atelic verbs, Chinese learners of English tend to switch from past to present tense in obligatory past temporal context whereas the opposite is true for telic verbs. These results suggest that while the lexical aspect of verbs has a major influence on the development of verbal morphology, tense is not fully eclipsed by aspect.
Based on these findings, we propose two prototypical combinations: atelic-verbs/imperfective/present-tense and telic-verbs/perfective/past-tense. Specifically, present tense is the primary locus to express imperfective aspect and atelic verbs are the prototypical ones to realize the imperfective aspect owing to their internal temporal compatibility (Smith 1997; Vogel 1997). Similarly, telic verbs prototypically combine with perfective aspect and past tense. The proposal explains why more mistakes are expected if the combination between tense and aspect is less prototypical (atelic-verbs/past-tense and telic-verbs/present-tense).
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