Date of Award
Master of Arts
The Aspect Hypothesis (Andersen & Shirai, 1994; 1996) proposes that the inherent lexical aspect of verbs plays a major role in the acquisition of tense-aspect (TA) morphology in both first and second language. This has been attested in most studies on TA morphology conducted with past and present TA markers. The present study examined the acquisition of Present Perfect, a rather insufficiently studied TA form from a Prototype Account, in two of its four functions, Experiential Past and Persistent Situation. The subjects were 85 L1-Spanish English language learners at intermediate and advanced levels. All participants had received formal instruction in English grammar as part of their curriculum. The data was collected through a forced-choice task with 16 situations equally distributed between the two Present Perfect functions and between telic and atelic verbs of four semantic categories: stative, activities, achievements, and accomplishments. Participants had to choose the correct verb form out of three options (Present, Past or Present Perfect) that would best complete the sentences given. The results showed evidence of clear developmental stages in the acquisition of the Present Perfect. The stages were characterized by an important role of proficiency level and lexical aspect as the more proficient participants showed a more accurate use of the target form. In addition, both the intermediate and advanced groups showed a tendency towards employing Persistent Situation with atelic verb types, whereas they used Experiential Past with telic verbs. Contrary to the predictions of the AH, the use that seemed to be first acquired and easier to learn was Persistent Situation, which obtained higher correctness rates in both groups than Experiential Past. When the results were analyzed across each aspectual verb type, the pattern of acquisition was less clear and thereby partly met the claims of the AH. This irregular trend attested in the data encouraged the argument that the acquisition of the functions of the Present Perfect may not be solely influenced by lexical aspect and verb prototypicality but several other factors may be at stake, such as sentence-type effect, input distribution, L1 transfer and rote-learned forms. Therefore, developmental stages in the acquisition of the Present Perfect should be examined in view of an interplay of "multiple factors" as already proposed by Sugaya and Shirai (2007), which work simultaneously and in a complementary fashion in the acquisitional process of TA morphology.
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