Tense, aspect and modality in first and second language

Emmanuelle Labeau (Editor), Inès Saddour (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportEdited Book


Time after time… and aspect and mood. Over the last twenty five years, the study of time, aspect and - to a lesser extent - mood acquisition has enjoyed increasing popularity and a constant widening of its scope. In such a teeming field, what can be the contribution of this book? We believe that it is unique in several respects. First, this volume encompasses studies from different theoretical frameworks: functionalism vs generativism or function-based vs form-based approaches. It also brings together various sub-fields (first and second language acquisition, child and adult acquisition, bilingualism) that tend to evolve in parallel rather than learn from each other. A further originality is that it focuses on a wide range of typologically different languages, and features less studied languages such as Korean and Bulgarian. Finally, the book gathers some well-established scholars, young researchers, and even research students, in a rich inter-generational exchange, that ensures the survival but also the renewal and the refreshment of the discipline. The book at a glance The first part of the volume is devoted to the study of child language acquisition in monolingual, impaired and bilingual acquisition, while the second part focuses on adult learners. In this section, we will provide an overview of each chapter. The first study by Aviya Hacohen explores the acquisition of compositional telicity in Hebrew L1. Her psycholinguistic approach contributes valuable data to refine theoretical accounts. Through an innovating methodology, she gathers information from adults and children on the influence of definiteness, number, and the mass vs countable distinction on the constitution of a telic interpretation of the verb phrase. She notices that the notion of definiteness is mastered by children as young as 10, while the mass/count distinction does not appear before 10;7. However, this does not entail an adult-like use of telicity. She therefore concludes that beyond definiteness and noun type, pragmatics may play an important role in the derivation of Hebrew compositional telicity. For the second chapter we move from a Semitic language to a Slavic one. Milena Kuehnast focuses on the acquisition of negative imperatives in Bulgarian, a form that presents the specificity of being grammatical only with the imperfective form of the verb. The study examines how 40 Bulgarian children distributed in two age-groups (15 between 2;11-3;11, and 25 between 4;00 and 5;00) develop with respect to the acquisition of imperfective viewpoints, and the use of imperfective morphology. It shows an evolution in the recourse to expression of force in the use of negative imperatives, as well as the influence of morphological complexity on the successful production of forms. With Yi-An Lin’s study, we concentrate both on another type of informant and of framework. Indeed, he studies the production of children suffering from Specific Language Impairment (SLI), a developmental language disorder the causes of which exclude cognitive impairment, psycho-emotional disturbance, and motor-articulatory disorders. Using the Leonard corpus in CLAN, Lin aims to test two competing accounts of SLI (the Agreement and Tense Omission Model [ATOM] and his own Phonetic Form Deficit Model [PFDM]) that conflicts on the role attributed to spellout in the impairment. Spellout is the point at which the Computational System for Human Language (CHL) passes over the most recently derived part of the derivation to the interface components, Phonetic Form (PF) and Logical Form (LF). ATOM claims that SLI sufferers have a deficit in their syntactic representation while PFDM suggests that the problem only occurs at the spellout level. After studying the corpus from the point of view of tense / agreement marking, case marking, argument-movement and auxiliary inversion, Lin finds further support for his model. Olga Gupol, Susan Rohstein and Sharon Armon-Lotem’s chapter offers a welcome bridge between child language acquisition and multilingualism. Their study explores the influence of intensive exposure to L2 Hebrew on the development of L1 Russian tense and aspect morphology through an elicited narrative. Their informants are 40 Russian-Hebrew sequential bilingual children distributed in two age groups 4;0 – 4;11 and 7;0 - 8;0. They come to the conclusion that bilingual children anchor their narratives in perfective like monolinguals. However, while aware of grammatical aspect, bilinguals lack the full form-function mapping and tend to overgeneralize the imperfective on the principles of simplicity (as imperfective are the least morphologically marked forms), universality (as it covers more functions) and interference. Rafael Salaberry opens the second section on foreign language learners. In his contribution, he reflects on the difficulty L2 learners of Spanish encounter when it comes to distinguishing between iterativity (conveyed with the use of the preterite) and habituality (expressed through the imperfect). He examines in turn the theoretical views that see, on the one hand, habituality as part of grammatical knowledge and iterativity as pragmatic knowledge, and on the other hand both habituality and iterativity as grammatical knowledge. He comes to the conclusion that the use of preterite as a default past tense marker may explain the impoverished system of aspectual distinctions, not only at beginners but also at advanced levels, which may indicate that the system is differentially represented among L1 and L2 speakers. Acquiring the vast array of functions conveyed by a form is therefore no mean feat, as confirmed by the next study. Based on the prototype theory, Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig’s chapter focuses on the development of the progressive in L2 English. It opens with an overview of the functions of the progressive in English. Then, a review of acquisition research on the progressive in English and other languages is provided. The bulk of the chapter reports on a longitudinal study of 16 learners of L2 English and shows how their use of the progressive expands from the prototypical uses of process and continuousness to the less prototypical uses of repetition and future. The study concludes that the progressive spreads in interlanguage in accordance with prototype accounts. However, it suggests additional stages, not predicted by the Aspect Hypothesis, in the development from activities and accomplishments at least for the meaning of repeatedness. A similar theoretical framework is adopted in the following chapter, but it deals with a lesser studied language. Hyun-Jin Kim revisits the claims of the Aspect Hypothesis in relation to the acquisition of L2 Korean by two L1 English learners. Inspired by studies on L2 Japanese, she focuses on the emergence and spread of the past / perfective marker ¬–ess- and the progressive – ko iss- in the interlanguage of her informants throughout their third and fourth semesters of study. The data collected through six sessions of conversational interviews and picture description tasks seem to support the Aspect Hypothesis. Indeed learners show a strong association between past tense and accomplishments / achievements at the start and a gradual extension to other types; a limited use of past / perfective marker with states and an affinity of progressive with activities / accomplishments and later achievements. In addition, - ko iss– moves from progressive to resultative in the specific category of Korean verbs meaning wear / carry. While the previous contributions focus on function, Evgeniya Sergeeva and Jean-Pierre Chevrot’s is interested in form. The authors explore the acquisition of verbal morphology in L2 French by 30 instructed native speakers of Russian distributed in a low and high levels. They use an elicitation task for verbs with different models of stem alternation and study how token frequency and base forms influence stem selection. The analysis shows that frequency affects correct production, especially among learners with high proficiency. As for substitution errors, it appears that forms with a simple structure are systematically more frequent than the target form they replace. When a complex form serves as a substitute, it is more frequent only when it is replacing another complex form. As regards the use of base forms, the 3rd person singular of the present – and to some extent the infinitive – play this role in the corpus. The authors therefore conclude that the processing of surface forms can be influenced positively or negatively by the frequency of the target forms and of other competing stems, and by the proximity of the target stem to a base form. Finally, Martin Howard’s contribution takes up the challenge of focusing on the poorer relation of the TAM system. On the basis of L2 French data obtained through sociolinguistic interviews, he studies the expression of futurity, conditional and subjunctive in three groups of university learners with classroom teaching only (two or three years of university teaching) or with a mixture of classroom teaching and naturalistic exposure (2 years at University + 1 year abroad). An analysis of relative frequencies leads him to suggest a continuum of use going from futurate present to conditional with past hypothetic conditional clauses in si, which needs to be confirmed by further studies. Acknowledgements The present volume was inspired by the conference Acquisition of Tense – Aspect – Mood in First and Second Language held on 9th and 10th February 2008 at Aston University (Birmingham, UK) where over 40 delegates from four continents and over a dozen countries met for lively and enjoyable discussions. This collection of papers was double peer-reviewed by an international scientific committee made of Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig (Indiana University), Christine Bozier (Lund Universitet), Alex Housen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Martin Howard (University College Cork), Florence Myles (Newcastle University), Urszula Paprocka (Catholic University of Lublin), †Clive Perdue (Université Paris 8), Michel Pierrard (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Rafael Salaberry (University of Texas at Austin), Suzanne Schlyter (Lund Universitet), Richard Towell (Salford University), and Daniel Véronique (Université d’Aix-en-Provence). We are very much indebted to that scientific committee for their insightful input at each step of the project. We are also thankful for the financial support of the Association for French Language Studies through its workshop grant, and to the Aston Modern Languages Research Foundation for funding the proofreading of the manuscript.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAmsterdam (NL)
Number of pages223
ISBN (Print)9789042034303
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Publication series

NameCahiers Chronos


  • language acquisition
  • Western European languages
  • tense
  • aspect
  • mood
  • child
  • adult
  • monolingual
  • learning process
  • multilingual
  • Bulgarian
  • Hebrew
  • Korean
  • Russian

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    Labeau, E., & Saddour, I. (Eds.) (2012). Tense, aspect and modality in first and second language. (Cahiers Chronos). Rodopi.