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Re-examining the developmental sequence hypothesis for past-tense marking in ESL: Transfer effects and implications
Dalarna University, School of Languages and Media Studies, English.
2001 (English)In: Prospect: A Journal of Australian TESOL, ISSN 0814-7094, Vol. 16, no 1, p. 17-35Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Recent research on the acquisition of past tense in L2 has suggested that there is a common developmental process for learners of disparate language backgrounds. This universalist hypothesis claims that verbs which are lexicosemantically more event-like are marked for tense first, followed in distinct stages by the marking of increasingly less event-like verbs. In this study the past tense marking of Chinese learners of ESL in Hong Kong was examined in 120 narratives by students at three learning levels: Form 3 (age 12), Form 6 (age 15) and the second year of university (age 20). An initial quantitative assessment of the data revealed that the above-described developmental pattern does not properly describe the past tense acquisition of ESL learners whose L1 is Cantonese. The data were re-examined using a less traditional, qualitative mode of data analysis, which 1) gave significance to the individual learner’s performance and 2) acknowledged the discourse context in which the past tense marking was used, and the speaker intent it served to fulfil. It was then found that across all three proficiency levels some learners use the past tense to mark only foregrounded (that is, informationally salient) situations. Other learners were found to use the past tense on all verbs, in conformity to the target language grammar. It was found that the only change, as these ESL learners advance in their academic career, is a gradual increase in the number of students who use target-like marking. The idiosyncrasy of this pattern of acquisition is interpreted as resulting from the transfer from these learners’ tense-free L1 of a feature of its temporal system. Two implications for L2 research and pedagogy are noted. It is suggested that the potential role of L1 in L2 acquisition must be properly acknowledged. It is also suggested that accurate assessment of learners’ syntax is achieved via a qualitative analysis of the individual’s performance, which recognises the communicative function the syntax serves in the discourse context in which it occurs.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2001. Vol. 16, no 1, p. 17-35
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:du-3787OAI: oai:dalea.du.se:3787DiVA, id: diva2:520035
Available from: 2009-03-11 Created: 2009-03-11 Last updated: 2012-04-24Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Cite
Citation style
  • apa
  • ieee
  • modern-language-association-8th-edition
  • vancouver
  • chicago-author-date
  • chicago-note-bibliography
  • Other style
More styles
Language
  • de-DE
  • en-GB
  • en-US
  • fi-FI
  • nn-NO
  • nn-NB
  • sv-SE
  • Other locale
More languages
Output format
  • html
  • text
  • asciidoc
  • rtf