Relating two simultaneous events in discourse: the role of on-goingness devices in L1 Tunisian Arabic, L1 French and L2 French by Tunisian learners

  • Ines Saddour

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Our PhD study focuses on the role of aspectual marking in expressing simultaneity of events in Tunisian Arabic as a first language, French as a first language, as well as in French as a second language by Tunisian learners at different acquisitional stages. We examine how the explicit markers of on-goingness qa:’id and «en train de» in Tunisian Arabic and in French respectively are used to express this temporal relation, in competition with the simple forms, the prefixed verb form in Tunisian Arabic and the présent de l’indicatif in French. We use a complex verbal task of retelling simultaneous events sharing an interval on the time axis based on eight videos presenting two situations happening in parallel. Two types of simultaneity are exploited: perfect simultaneity (when the two situations are parallel to each other) and inclusion (one situation is framed by the second one). Our informants in French and in Tunisian Arabic have two profiles, highly educated and low educated speakers. We show that the participants’ response to the retelling task varies according to their profiles, and so does their use of the on-goingness devices in the expression of simultaneity. The differences observed between the two profile groups are explained by the degree to which the speakers have developed a habit of responding to tasks. This is a skill typically acquired during schooling. We notice overall that the use of qa:’id as well as of «en train de» is less frequent in the data than the use of the simple forms. However, qa:’id as well as «en train de» are employed to play discursive roles that go beyond the proposition level. We postulate that despite the shared features between Tunisian Arabic and French regarding marking the concept of on-goingness, namely the presence of explicit lexical, not fully grammaticalised markers competing with other non-marked forms, the way they are used in the discourse of simultaneous events shows clear differences. We explain that «en train de» plays a more contrastive role than qa:’id and its use in discourse obeys a stricter rule. In cases of the inclusion type of simultaneity, it is used to construe the ‘framing’ event that encloses the second event. In construing perfectly simultaneneous events, and when both «en train de» and présent de l’indicatif are used, the proposition with «en train de» generally precedes the proposition with présent de l’indicatif, and not the other way around. qa:id obeys, but to a less strict rule as it can be used interchangeably with the simple form regardless of the order of propositions. The contrastive analysis of French L1 and L2 reveals learners’ deviations from natives’ use of on-goingness devices. They generalise the use of «en train de» and apply different rules to the interaction of the different marked and unmarked forms in discourse. Learners do not master its role in discourse even at advanced stages of acquisition despite its possible emergence around the basic and intermediate varieties. We conclude that the native speakers’ use of «en train de» involves mastering its role at the macro-structure level. This feature, not explicitly available to learners in the input, might persistently present a challenge to L2 acquisition of the periphrasis.
    Date of AwardSept 2010
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorEmmanuelle Labeau (Supervisor)


    • temporal simultaneity
    • perspective taking
    • aspect
    • event construal
    • learner varieties

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