Functional categories and the acquisition of aspect in L2 Spanish: a longitudinal study

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Functional categories and the acquisition of aspect in L2 Spanish: a longitudinal study

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Title: Functional categories and the acquisition of aspect in L2 Spanish: a longitudinal study
Author: Schell, Karyn
Abstract: This dissertation is concerned with the interaction between morphosyntax and semantics in examining how L2 learners acquire the form-meaning relationship of Spanish aspect, i.e. mastering the preterit and imperfect past tenses. Data was obtained during a longitudinal study of English L1 university students while participating in a nine-month study abroad program in Cadiz, Spain. Their progress with the acquisition of L2 Spanish aspect was monitored at different stages throughout the year.Based on the Primacy of Aspect Hypothesis, as in L1 acquisition, the Distribution Bias Hypothesis argues that due to the biased input they receive from native speakers, adult L2 learners initially restrict grammatical aspect in accordance with the four Vendlerian classes of inherent lexical aspect. Various investigations, however, as well as the data here, illustrate that the match up of grammatical to lexical aspect does not occur at the beginning stages of L2 acquisition and that the use of past tense morphology is initially independent of lexical aspect.In accordance with the Minimalist Program, the acquisition of L2 Spanish will be treated in terms of the functional categories, Inner and Outer Aspect Phrase, and their corresponding formal features. The three stages of Constructionism will be applied to provide a new framework for investigation. During the initial to early intermediate stages of the acquisition, L2 learners experience L1 transference in which the abstract formal features of English verbs, are transferred to the IL. By the late intermediate stage, the L1 feature values are unset, but the L2 values are still not specified, which results in a random identification of aspect by L2 learners. As these feature strengths remain unset, the IL Outer Aspect Phrase, which assigns the morphology in accordance with the (a)telicity of the VP, apparently mismaps the features associated with the preterit and the imperfect. In the meantime, the L2 learners rely on different strategies, in particular the matching of lexical to grammatical aspect, class by class, in order to acquire the L2 settings. By the advanced stages, the feature values at Inner Aspect Phrase become specified as L2 learners master the lexical aspect of most verbs.
Description: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 2000

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