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Friday 19 September, 2014 09:30 to 10:00 Oral presentation
Copulas in Spanish L2 and the accessibility of inherent semantic properties
Authors: Manuela Pinto and Alexia Guerra Rivera


This study examines L2 acquisition of Spanish copula (ser/estar) in adjectival constructions. Most adjectives allow alternation between ser/estar. However, this alternation relates to a different interpretation: ser conveys a permanent interpretation to the predicate, estar a change of state emphasizing the result. Previous studies on English L1 Spanish L2 show persistent optionality in copula choice (Bruhn de Garavito & Valenzuela 2008; Holtheuer, 2012). Guerra Rivera (2012) found similar data for Dutch L1 Spanish L2. What is the reason for optionality? Focusing on the basic ingredients of Spanish adjectival constructions, we try to understand why these constructions are difficult for L2ers (Slabakova 2009, Rothman & Slabakova 2011). More specifically, we address the issue of whether inherent semantic properties of lexical items are accessible to L2ers (Slabakova 2006). According to Schmitt (2005), ser is aspectually neutral and it results in an interpretation of the property expressed by the adjective as a permanent one. Conversely, the inherent aspectual properties of estar convey a change-of-state reading, emphasizing the end result of the predicate. Dutch has two copulas, zijn and worden,. Zijn is a neutral copula, whereas worden is used as a change-of-state copula. Although zijn/worden may be seen as equivalent to ser/estar, estar emphasizes the result of a change of state (a transition), whereas worden its process (Hanegreefs, 2004). The learning task for Dutch L1 Spanish L2 is thus to discover that the inherent semantic properties of estar do not completely match those of worden. We hypothesize that L2ers may not have access to these properties and that they will have problems with adjectival constructions implying a gradual change. A GJT (F (1,46)=54,773, p<0.01) and a Fill-in-the-gap task (F (1,33)=5,842, p<0.01) offered to 14 Dutch L1 Spanish L2 (CEFR=C1) and 23 Spanish natives showed that gradient adjectives seem harder to acquire than non-gradient ones. 300 words Selected references: Hanegreefs, H. (2004). The Dutch change-of-state copula" worden" and its Spanish counterparts: a matter of aspect and voice. Review of cognitive linguistics, (2), 1-30. Rothman, J., & Slabakova, R. (2011). The Mind-Context Divide: On acquisition at the linguistic interfaces. Lingua, 121(4), 568-576. Schmitt, C. (2005). Semi-copulas. In Kempchinsky, P. M., & Slabakova, R. (Eds.). Aspectual inquiries (Vol. 62). Springer Netherlands. pp. 121-145. Slabakova, R. (2006). Is there a critical period for semantics?. Second Language Research, 22(3), 302-338. Slabakova, R. (2009). Features or parameters: which one makes second language acquisition easier, and more interesting to study?. Second Language Research, 25(2), 313-324. VanPatten, B. (1985). The Acquisition of Ser and Estar in Adult Second Language Learners: A preliminary investigation of transitional stages of competence. Hispania 68, 399-406.
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Paper session D1
Place: Main Room

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