Story Time: The Expression of Temporal Events in Narration by L2 Learners of German
Hackmann, Emily Elizabeth
University of Kansas
Germanic Languages & Literatures
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The Aspect Hypothesis (AH) and the Discourse Hypothesis (DH) have each been used to explain how learners acquire tense and aspect (TA) in a second language. The AH predicts that learners will be more strongly influenced by a verb’s lexical aspect in their choice of TA markers, while the DH predicts that learners will be more greatly influenced by a verb’s role in a narrative. Recent research has regarded these two theories as complementary rather than competing, finding support for both hypotheses. However, these newer studies have so far primarily considered the theories’ claims for second language learners of English and Romance Languages. The current study expands on these findings, investigating the effects of lexical aspect and narrative function for L1 English students learning L2 German. This L1-L2 pairing is of particular interest due to the dissimilarities between the aspectual systems of the two languages. The study’s participants were enrolled in a fourth semester university German class. Over the course of one semester, they produced 6 written and 6 oral blogs, in which they told stories about themselves in German related to course themes. In addition, each student produced one written and one oral blog in English. The participants also took part in a mid-semester pedagogical intervention. At the end of the semester, approximately half of the students participated in retrospective interviews, in which they were asked about their opinions of the blogging process and the pedagogical intervention. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis, the study investigated the effects of the intervention, mode of production, lexical aspect, narrative function, and L1 influence on learners’ TA use in their narratives. The results of the quantitative analysis showed that the DH was a more accurate predictor of tense/aspect use for the study’s participants than was the AH. It was also found that learners differentiated between foreground and background more consistently in written narratives than in spoken blogs. In addition, a visual inspection of the data plots indicated that the learners’ use of TA was similar for the English and German data, in terms of both grounding and lexical aspect. Finally, the results showed that the intervention was successful in helping learners associate past tense with foreground events, as well as in helping them to avoid the use of progressive aspect in their German narratives.
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