The acquisition of French past tenses by tutored anglophone advanced learners : is aspect enough?
Following Andersen's (1986, 1991) study of untutored anglophone learners of Spanish, aspectual features
have been at the centre of hypotheses on the development of past verbal morphology in language acquisition. The
Primacy of Aspect Hypothesis claims that the association of any verb category (Aktionsart) with any aspect
(perfective or imperfective) constitutes the endpoint of acquisition. However, its predictions rely on the
observation of a limited number of untutored learners at the early stages of their acquisition, and have yet to be
confirmed in other settings.
The aim of the present thesis is to evaluate the ex planatory power of the P AH in respect of the acquisition
of French past tenses, an aspect of the language which constitutes a serious stumbling block for foreign learners,
even those at the highest levels of proficiency (Coppieters 1987). The present research applies the PAH to the
production of 61 anglophone 'advanced learners' (as defined in Bartning 1997) in a tutored environment. In so
doing, it tests concurrent explanations, including the influence of the input, the influence of chunking, and the
hypothesis of cyclic development. Finally, it discusses the cotextual and contextual factors that still provoke what
Anderson (1991) terms "non-native glitches" at the final stage, as predicted by the PAH.
The first part of the thesis provides the theoretical background to the corpus analysis. It opens with a
diachronic presentation of the French past tense system focusing on present areas of competition and
developments that emphasize the complexity of the system to be acquired. The concepts of time, grammatical
aspect and lexical aspect (Aktionsart) are introduced and discussed in the second chapter, and a distinctive formal
representation of the French past tenses is offered in the third chapter.
The second part of the thesis is devoted to a corpus analysis. The data gathering procedures and the choice
of tasks (oral and written film narratives based on Modern Times, c10ze tests and acceptability judgement tests) are
described and justified in the research methodology chapter. The research design was shaped by previous studies
and consequently allows comparison with these. The second chapter is devoted to the narratives analysis and the
third to the grammatical tasks. This section closes with a summary of discoveries and a comparison with previous
The conclusion addresses the initial research questions in the light of both theory and practice. It shows that
the PAH fails to account for the complex phenomenon of past tense development in the acquisitional settings
under study, as it adopts a local (the verb phrase) and linear (steady progression towards native usage) approach. It
is thus suggested that past tense acquisition rather follows a pendular development as learners reformulate their
learning hypotheses and become increasingly able to shift from local to global cues and so to integrate the
influence of cotext and context in their tense choice.
French language Aspect - Aktionsarl - French as a foreign language - Corpus analysis