General programme, activity sheet

Friday 19 September, 2014 Poster
How do German speakers acquire the Spanish tense system as a foreign language?
Authors: Tim Diaubalick


Both the Interpretability Hypothesis and the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis attribute major effects to the learner’s L1 regarding the success in their L2. However, concerning the acquisition of the Spanish past tenses, some specific hypotheses (like the Primacy of Aspect or the Default Tense Hypothesis) claim definite stages that the learner will go through without mentioning a dependence of the mother tongue. Nevertheless, until now there have been only very few studies investigating the acquisition amongst speakers whose native language is not English. The comparison between various tense systems reveals great differences: while the Spanish Imperfect can be seen as either merely temporal or mainly aspectual, the important fact is that it partly resembles the English Past Progressive and the “used to”- construction. On the contrary, in German, on the other hand, there is no strong evidence that there are any aspectual differences at all. Thus, an empirical study with German students was conducted, to test the existing theories. As in German the Present Perfect is the most usual past tense, a transfer should result in an overuse of the corresponding Spanish forms as the start point for the Reassembly Task. The results here were surprising: although the specific past tense theories, as expected, could not be confirmed, there seemed to be no direct transfer from the participants’ native language. Instead, the Imperfect was being over-generalized. Furthermore, the participants seemed to rely heavily on temporal adverbials in a way that exceeded any similar effects observed in earlier studies. The German language often attributes higher values to lexical elements, such as particles and adverbs, than to verbal morphology, which represents a possible cause for the observed behaviour. If it is true that Germans consider only temporal adjuncts, this should also be manifested in other tenses. For instance, the differences between the Spanish future tenses, which are often explained via temporal distance, could be a further contrast that underlies lexical trigger effects.
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