Processing Tense/Aspect-Agreement Violations On-Line in the Second Language: A Self-Paced Reading Study with French and German L2 Learners of English.
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- Aspect, syntactic processing, tense, transfer Corresponding author: Leah Roberts, Centre for Language Learning Research, Department of Education, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK.
- From earlier research, in particular data from corpus studies and acceptability judgment tasks, the authors know much about learners’ production of tense/aspect distinctions and of tense/aspect morphology in development both at early and more advanced stages of L2 acquisition, and more recently about how L2 learners interpret target language tense/aspect distinctions in general.
- Initially, the cat ate/*has eaten only fish.
- Both French and German have a compound past (the passé composé/the Perfekt)1 which is similar in surface form to the present perfect in English (have + past participle).
- Before reporting the details of the current experiment and the results, the authors consider what is meant by implicit and explicit knowledge.
1 Implicit and explicit knowledge
- The distinction between and knowledge refers to whether or not that knowledge is intuitive and available for automatic processing , or consciously available through effortful, controlled processing (e.g. R. Ellis et al., 2006; Hulstijn, 2005).
- According to Tokowicz and MacWhinney (2005: 178) types of explicit knowledge include similarities between the L1–L2 pairings, and explicit grammar rules, which can be exploited by L2 learners when making linguistic judgements.
- As such, experimental tasks such as off-line grammaticality judgment tasks (GJTs) are typically considered conducive to testing and measuring this type of knowledge (e.g. R. Ellis, 2005; Tokowicz and MacWhinney, 2005).
- On the other hand, as learners cannot consciously tap into their implicit knowledge, on-line tasks such as real-time spontaneous oral production tasks (e.g. R. Ellis, 2005) and event-related potential (ERP) responses in sentence comprehension tasks (e.g. Tokowicz and MacWhinney, 2005) are considered appropriate for measuring implicit knowledge (e.g. R. Ellis, 2005).
- The authors test explicit knowledge using an untimed GJT and implicit knowledge using a self-paced reading task in an attempt to give a better understanding of how learners use their knowledge in on-and off-line comprehension.
2 Temporal adverbs and temporal verbal morphology
- Languages differ in how these temporal relations are established, ranging from languages with mandatory marking of tense and aspect, to those with no such marking but a full repertoire of temporal adverbials.
- French also marks aspect, albeit differently to English.
- (‘Maria slept’) perfective b. French: Maria a dormi.
- French, on the other hand, has one form underlying the two meanings: the compound past encodes T[+past] for preterit meaning and T[–past] and Asp[+perfect] for present perfect meaning.
3 Acquisition of tense/aspect in the L2
- The L2 acquisition of tense/aspect has been investigated from both functional and formal perspectives.
- Researchers working within the functional tradition have been interested in how learners establish temporal relations rather than in their ability to acquire the formal morphological marking of tense/aspect (e.g. Dietrich et al., 1995; Giacalone Ramat, 1992; Klein and Perdue, 1992; Skiba and Dittmar, 1992; Starren, 2001).
- In turn, this contributes to the discussion on how much, if any, the L1 influences the acquisition of abstract underlying grammatical properties at the level of parametric variation between the L1 and L2.
- Turning to the present perfect, Liszka (2004, 2005) tested L1 Chinese, German and Japanese speakers of advanced L2 English on the acquisition of the English present perfect, using a form-interpretation task.
- The Japanese alternated mainly between past simple use (55%) and present use (38%), with the remaining 7% made up of other forms.
4 Comprehending temporal relations on-line
- One way to investigate learners’ implicit grammatical knowledge is to use methods that can tap into comprehenders’ moment-by-moment processing of sentences, while they are reading the input for comprehension (for an overview of L2 processing, see Roberts, 2012).
- Last week, James went/*has gone swimming every day.
- Of interest to the current experiment with L2 learners is how the processor handles mismatches between a fronted temporal adverb and a morphological marker of tense/aspect, and there are very few studies that have focused on the consequences of processing temporal or tense/aspect violations on-line.
- Afgelopen zondag lakte Vincent de kozijnen van zijn landhuis.
- Last Sunday Vincent painted the window frames of his country house.
II The current study
- In the current study the authors investigate the knowledge of the English past simple and present perfect by advanced French and German L2 learners; specifically, they ask whether the learners are able to access and apply this knowledge in the on-line processing of English sentences with tense–aspect violations.
- The underlying assumption is that if the learners have fully acquired the semantics underlying the morphological marking of tense and aspect, then they should be sensitive to the mismatch between a fronted temporal adverbial and the tensed clause that follows in both off- and on-line comprehension.
- The learners were asked to read 10 sets of 6 sentences in which the verb was missing, and then to choose the correct verb from a set of infinitival forms, inserting it in its correct morphological form .
- Twenty French and 20 German L2 learners who all scored above 60% on the task were selected.
- The accuracy for both groups was above chance.
- All of the French learners and the majority of the German learners were studying English at university in their home country.
- Twenty-four past simple (11) and 24 present perfect (12) experimental items were created .7.
- The first was the critical sentence and it contained a temporal adverbial (a prepositional phrase or adverbial expression) in the topic position, thus modifying the time being talked about (the Topic Time, TT; see Klein, 1994).
- Last week, James went swimming every day.
- Mismatch b. * Since last week, James went swimming every day, also known as Past simple.
3 Tasks and procedure
- For the main experiment, two tasks were undertaken: an off-line acceptability judgment task measuring explicit knowledge and a self-paced reading experiment to tap into implicit knowledge.
- Each session began with a cross in the centre of the screen.
- All of the experimental items and half of the fillers were followed by a yes/no comprehension question, requiring equal numbers of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses (e.g.
- The L2 learners were also required to complete the cloze production task and the English proficiency test (The Oxford Placement Test; Allan, 1992).
- This feedback was provided at least three weeks after the participants had fully completed the study.
- For all analyses, an ANOVA was run on the data, with the within-participants factor Type (match/mismatch) and the between-participants factor Group with 3 levels (native English speakers/German L2 learners/French L2 learners).
- This factor was treated as a within-participants factor in the items analyses.
- The authors report the results below separately for each because the critical regions differ by one word between the past simple and the present perfect, as the latter comprises an auxiliary plus past participle.
5 Acceptability judgment task
- Table 1 shows the three groups’ mean responses on the acceptability judgment task for the past simple items.
- Post-hoc Tukey HSD test found no significant differences between the groups (ps > .07).
6 Self-paced reading task
- Before analyses were run on the reading time data, to remove outlying data points, responses that fell 2 standard deviations away from an individual’s mean were removed per segment that was analysed, affecting 1.22% of the English, 0.92% of the French and 1.23% of the German data.
- There were no other significant effects following this segment.9.
- As with the past simple items, analyses were run on the segments from the VP (here starting with the auxiliary verb) and then across the three segments following it, the past participle and the two subsequent words.
- Table 4 shows the mean reading times for these conditions, and the processing cost effects are visualized in Figure 2.
IV General discussion
- The authors presented the results from an off-line acceptability judgment task and an on-line self-paced reading study designed to investigate the explicit and implicit knowledge of English tense/aspect violations of German and French L2 learners.
- The main results are summarized as follows: .
- Thus they all demonstrated their explicit knowledge of the English past simple and present perfect.
- At University of York on November 11, 2013slr.sagepub.comDownloaded from Roberts and Liszka 427 Despite this, the two L2 groups patterned differently from each other in their online processing of the experimental sentences.
- The French L2 learners’ process- ing reflected their off-line, metalinguistic judgments: they found the mismatch conditions more difficult to process than the match conditions of both the past simple and the present perfect items.
1 L1 influences
- The major finding of the current study was that the French but not the German L2 learners were sensitive during on-line processing to the mismatch between the fronted temporal adverbial and the inflected verb.
- If indeed L1 influence underlies the observed on-line differences in the current study, the question then arises as to what it is that is transferred between the L1 and the L2.
- If the learners were directly interpreting the English sentences according to their L1 grammar, this could explain the difference between the two L2 learners in their processing of the past simple items.
- Turning now to the present perfect, for the French, as [+/−perfect] is specified unlike in German, the authors might expect the mismatch conditions to be more difficult to process than the match conditions.
- Depuis la semaine dernière je suis malade, also known as present perfect b. French.
2 Native speakers’ processing of past simple vs. present perfect violations
- Another striking finding of this study was the unexpected processing cost asymmetry that was observed in the native speakers’ processing of the experimental items.
- That is, it was only the mismatch condition in the present perfect sentences that caused a processing cost for the native speakers (Last year, Jill has wanted … vs. *Since last year, Jill wanted), even though both mismatch conditions were assessed as significantly less acceptable than the corresponding match conditions in the off-line acceptability judgment task.
- The authors suggest that it is because the present tense component in the present perfect constructions has wanted means the time that is being talked about (TT) includes the time of the utterance and, therefore, one cannot use an adverbial that singles out a specific time in the past (last year, yesterday, at five).
- Also, the fact that this construction may be in the process of becoming more widely used in British English would explain why the French learners performed differently from the English native speakers with the past simple items: it is plausible to assume that a learner may need more and naturalistic exposure in the L2 environment to fully acquire such constructions.
- What is of interest is that this difference was only observable in the native speakers’ on-line comprehension: when all interpretative processes are brought into play, and a metalinguistic judgment needed to be made, these items were classed as ‘unacceptable’, like the past simple items.
3 Further L2 processing research
- Further research is necessary to address many issues that are raised in this study.
- It is not clear what the L2 learners’ and the native speakers’ final interpretations for the mismatch conditions were, because the authors did not specifically ask the participants for their interpretations of either the match or the mismatch sentences.
- One possibility is that because lexical means for expressing temporal relations characterize early learners’ tense/aspect productions, seemingly irrespective of the properties of the L1 (e.g. Starren, 2001), then such lexical means may ultimately exert more influence in L2 learners’ interpretations Perhaps in contrast, in monolingual processing the morphology ‘wins out’.
- 14 at University of York on November 11, 2013slr.sagepub.comDownloaded from Roberts and Liszka 431.
- Based on the results of this study, it was argued that the learners’.
- In addition to an effect of direct transfer, i.e. whether or not the L1 encodes Asp[+/−perfect], it was further suggested that indirect transfer also plays a role.
- This was proposed to account for the results in terms of the differences between English and French, and similarities between French and German, complementing the direct transfer account, which considers the similarities between English and French and the differences with German.
- It was argued that whether or not the learners’.
- L1 has grammaticized aspect or not more generally may underlie the differences in sensitivity to tense/aspect agreement violations, rather than the effect being driven only by the L1 and the L2 making exactly the same distinctions.
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"Processing Tense/Aspect-Agreement V..." refers background in this paper
...…to inform debates on whether Universal Grammar is fully available to older L2 learners (e.g. Lardiere, 1998a, 1998b, 2000; Prévost and White, 2000; Schwartz and Sprouse, 1996; Vainikka and Young-Scholten, 1996a) or whether it is only partially available (e.g. Hawkins and Chan, 1997; Hawkins and…...
...Such selective differences help to inform debates on whether Universal Grammar is fully available to older L2 learners (e.g. Lardiere, 1998a, 1998b, 2000; Prévost and White, 2000; Schwartz and Sprouse, 1996; Vainikka and Young-Scholten, 1996a) or whether it is only partially available (e....
"Processing Tense/Aspect-Agreement V..." refers background in this paper
...The distinction between implicit and explicit knowledge refers to whether or not that knowledge is intuitive and available for automatic processing (implicit), or consciously available through effortful, controlled processing (explicit) (e.g. R. Ellis et al., 2006; Hulstijn, 2005)....
"Processing Tense/Aspect-Agreement V..." refers result in this paper
...These findings fit with the view that the fronted temporal adverbial functions as a topic (Chafe, 1984; Partee, 1984; Reinhart, 1983; Virtanen, 1992) and, as such, creates a new discourse segment.4 (8) a....
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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What are the contributions in this paper?
In this article, the authors report the results of a self-paced reading experiment designed to investigate the question of whether or not advanced French and German learners of English as a second language ( L2 ) are sensitive to tense/aspect mismatches between a fronted temporal adverbial and the inflected verb that follows ( e. g. * Last week, James has gone swimming every day ) in their on-line comprehension. Using a self-paced reading task, the authors investigated whether they could access this knowledge during real-time processing. The authors suggest that the performance differences between the L2 groups can be explained by influences from the learners ’ first language ( L1 ): namely, only those whose L1 has grammaticized aspect ( French ) were sensitive to the tense/aspect violations on-line, and thus could be argued to have implicit knowledge of English tense/aspect distinctions.
Q2. What are the future works in this paper?
Further research is necessary to address many issues that are raised in this study. One possibility is that because lexical means for expressing temporal relations characterize early learners ’ tense/aspect productions, seemingly irrespective of the properties of the L1 ( e. g. Starren, 2001 ), then such lexical means may ultimately exert more influence in L2 learners ’ interpretations The authors leave these open questions to future research. This may be so even when the inflectional morphology appears to be in place, and can be used in real-time processing.