LINGUIST List 16.5

Mon Jan 10 2005

Diss: Psycholing/Semantics: Schmiedtová: 'At the same..'

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        1.    Barbara Schmiedtová, At the same time... The expression of simultaneity in learner varieties

Message 1: At the same time... The expression of simultaneity in learner varieties

Date: 04-Jan-2005
From: Barbara Schmiedtová <>
Subject: At the same time... The expression of simultaneity in learner varieties

Institution: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Program: Doctoral Program of the Max-Planck Society
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2004

Author: Barbara Schmiedtová

Dissertation Title: At the same time... The expression of simultaneity in learner varieties

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Czech (CZC)
                            English (ENG)
                            German, Standard (GER)

Dissertation Director:
Prof.Dr. Wolfgang Klein
Stephen C. Levinson
Prof.Dr. Tom Roeper
Dan I. Slobin

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation investigates the development of temporality by adult
English and German learners of Czech, focusing specifically on the
expression of simultaneity. In expressing simultaneity, all three languages
employ various types of temporal adverbials, including temporal subordinate
clauses and phase verb constructions. However only Czech and English make
use of grammaticalized aspect to mark simultaneity. But how aspectual
distinctions are morphologically marked in Czech differs considerably from
English. This distribution of crosslinguistic differences allows closer
inspection of the role of aspect in second language acquisition across
different source languages. The focal research questions answered here are:
(i) How do native speakers of the three languages express simultaneity?
(ii) How do English and German learners express simultaneity in the target
language Czech? (iii) How do the learner groups differ from each other and
from native speakers of the target language?

I show that the grammatical system of the source language determines
whether and how easily certain linguistic features of the target language
will be acquired. In the expression of simultaneity two features influence
the choice of the strategies learners employ: One is the presence or
absence of grammaticalized aspect and the other is the position in the
source language of a particular morpheme carrying aspectual meaning.

The latter is a perceptual saliency effect (formulated as 'The Perceptual
Saliency Hypothesis') that appears to also be driven by the respective
source language. However, strong typological similarities between the
source and the target language (e.g. between English and Czech) can also be
misleading for learners at higher proficiency levels. That is, due to the
strong resemblance of the first and the second languages, English learners
stay attached to their initial hypothesis about the target language
grammar. German learners, on the other hand, who must assume from the
beginning that there are more differences than similarities between the
first and the second language, are able to revise their initial hypothesis
and make less source language biased choices at later stages of acquisition.

In light of these findings it is proposed that the value of the typological
similarity between a source and a target language follows the law of
diminishing returns.

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