Lexical aspect and L1 influence on the acquisition of English verb tense and aspect among the Hong Kong secondary school learners

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Lexical aspect and L1 influence on the acquisition of English verb tense and aspect among the Hong Kong secondary school learners


Author: Hong, Wai-mun
Title: Lexical aspect and L1 influence on the acquisition of English verb tense and aspect among the Hong Kong secondary school learners
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2008
Subject: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations.
English language -- Acquisition -- Case studies.
English language -- Study and teaching (Secondary) -- China -- Hong Kong.
Language acquisition.
Department: Dept. of English
Pages: xiv, 217 leaves : ill. ; 31 cm.
Language: English
InnoPac Record: http://library.polyu.edu.hk/record=b2233465
URI: http://theses.lib.polyu.edu.hk/handle/200/2763
Abstract: This thesis reports on a cross-sectional developmental study into the acquisition of English simple past by Hong Kong secondary school learners. It investigates the role of lexical semantics and first language (L1) influence on the acquisition of simple past. The participants (N=138) were secondary school learners from levels one to five of a Chinese-medium middle school and the study examined their use of simple past and non-simple-past across lexical aspect in simple past contexts. Simple past contexts refer to those contexts in which past-related linguistic devices are used, including lexical items such as temporal adverbials (e.g. yesterday and last night) or other grammatical means, such as verbs in a past form, and pragmatic means, such as scaffolding, chronological order and implicit meaning (Bardovi-Harlig,2000:12). To gain a better understanding of the role that lexical aspect and L1 influence play in the learning process, the research included two main elements. These were (1) an investigation into the L1 Cantonese influence on the acquisition of English simple past, and (2) an analysis of the extent to which the learners' use of simple past supported the propositions found in Aspect Hypothesis (Andersen and Shirai 1994, 1996). Aspect Hypothesis (Andersen and Shiai 1994) states that during the beginning stages of language learning learners use verbal morphology to encode lexical aspect of verbs. It is hypothesized that learners will first use simple past with achievements then accomplishments, followed later by activities and states. Three tasks including a fill-in-the-blanks task, a translation task and a picture narrative were used to elicit data from the learners. In the fill-in-the-blanks task, learners were asked to complete the items by selecting the appropriate grammatical form of the base form verb provided in brackets that suited that particular context. In the translation task, learners were asked to choose the one English verb form out of six options which best conveyed the meaning of the corresponding underlined verb in the Chinese sentences. In the writing task, a picture narrative was provided, showing eight pictures about 'An Unlucky Day for John' with verbs provided in base form. As an example, the first sentence, "Yesterday was an unlucky day for John" was printed on the answer sheet and learners were asked to write a story based on the pictures provided. The results from this study indicate that both lexical aspect and L1 influence affect Hong Kong secondary school learners of English when acquiring English simple past. Learners used simple past more for telic verbs (i.e. accomplishments and achievements) than atelic verbs (i.e. states and activities) and progressive forms were used more for activities than states, accomplishments and achievements. However, the results also revealed that learners used simple past the least for activities rather than states, thus the predictions made in Aspect Hypothesis are not fully supported. Some degree of L1 influence was found in that learners used base form the most other than simple past with all four lexical aspectual categories, i.e. states, activities, accomplishments and achievements. The results of the picture narrative task showed more use of base form than in the fill-in-the-blanks task. The results therefore support that L1 influence affect Hong Kong learners when acquiring English simple past. In order to find out if there is any influence from the Cantonese aspectual marker -zo (?), a translation task was designed. In the translation task, some of the Cantonese sentences contained the aspectual marker -zo (?) and others contained the zero marker, i.e. no aspectual marker. Findings from the translation task suggested that learners were strongly affected by the aspectual marker -zo (?). They made more use of English perfect if -zo was present in the corresponding Chinese sentences and simple present markings were used more if the verb phrases were not marked with the aspectual marker -zo. The effects of L1 also showed up in all four aspectual categories in two different forms, i.e. the use of base form in the fill-in-the-blanks task and the picture narrative, and the use of perfect forms in the translation task. To conclude, in the three tasks conducted during this research, that is, fill-in-the-blanks, translation task and narrative writing, learners used more simple past with telic verbs than atelic verbs. This finding agrees partially with what Aspect Hypothesis predicts: that the use of simple past spreads from achievements to accomplishments to activities and lastly to states. Cantonese has tenseless marking, and Cantonese perfective overlaps with English simple past and perfect. This L1 influence is shown to have interfered with the learners' use of English simple past. The fill-in-the-blanks and the narrative writing tasks highlight the learners' preference for using tenseless marking. In the multiple-choice-translation task using the Cantonese perfective marker -zo in half of the perfective sentences, learners used more perfect markings in perfective sentences with -zo than in zero marking perfective sentences. In this study, we conclude that lexical aspect and L1 influence affect the acquisition of English simple past by Hong Kong secondary school learners.

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