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Date: Sat, 20 Aug 2005 10:26:16 +0200 From: Cristiano Broccias Subject: At the Same Time: The Expression of Simultaneity in Learner Varieties
AUTHOR: Schmiedtová, Barbara TITLE: At the Same Time SUBTITLE: The Expression of Simultaneity in Learner Varieties SERIES: Studies on Language Acquisition 26 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2004
Cristiano Broccias, Faculty of Modern Languages, University of Genoa (Italy)
This book studies how English and German learners of Czech express simultaneity, i.e. the partial or total overlap, between two events by way of explicit means. The monograph comprises nine chapters, which I will now summarise briefly, and an appendix of "materials", which includes descriptions of the five stimuli used in the quantitative analysis of this study.
Chapter 1 (Simultaneity in native speaker and learner language) This chapter offers a brief overview of the topic to be investigated, i.e. the explicit expression of simultaneity by adult English and German learners of Czech. Among the questions Schmiedtová intends to answer are (1) whether English speakers are better than German learners at using Czech aspect in the expression of simultaneity (since aspect is encoded grammatically in both languages, cf. the -ing form in English); (2) whether English speakers may in fact be misled by their grammatical aspect (since, although both Czech and English have grammatical aspect, the morphologically simple form in Czech is usually imperfective. By contrast, the morphologically simple form in English is taken to be perfective since the -ing form has an imperfectivising function); (3) how aspect interacts with other strategies such as the use of temporal adverbials.
Chapter 2 (The notion of simultaneity and its categorization) Schmiedtová defines simultaneity between two events as involving a "common subinterval on the time axis. Temporal boundaries need not coincide" (p.9). Next, she shows that simultaneity can be expressed either implicitly or explicitly. The latter case can be further subdivided into explicit marking of simultaneity by way of temporal devices (e.g. aspectual marking, temporal adverbials) and explicit marking of simultaneity by way of atemporal devices (e.g. spatial expressions, perception verbs). In the latter case, the simultaneity interpretation is context-dependent rather than part of the meaning of the sentence. The chapter concludes with a short discussion of aspect. Here the author points out that she subscribes to Klein's (1994) time-relational analysis of aspect (i.e. both tense and aspect are regarded as relational categories).
Chapter 3 (The expression of simultaneity in English, German and Czech) This chapter discusses in some detail the various ways in which simultaneity can be expressed in English, German and Czech. Schmiedtová first analyzes explicit simultaneity marking by way of temporal devices in Czech. Czech speakers can use grammatical aspect, i.e. perfective vs. imperfective aspect - these two aspects are coded through specific prefixes and suffixes (such as "-va" for imperfectivity and "-nou" for perfectivity). Simultaneity can be expressed by either combining two imperfectives (aspectual juxtaposition) or contrasting an imperfective with a perfective (aspectual contrast). This strategy can be enriched by the use of other devices such as temporal connectives. Importantly, if two perfectives are used (i.e. without any additional simultaneity markers), a sequential reading ensues. The author then shows that the two strategies available in Czech, i.e. the use of aspectual marking and the use of temporal lexical items, are also possible in English. By contrast, German behaves differently because (im)perfective aspect is not grammaticalised. German relies mainly on lexical devices, i.e. temporal adverbials and connectives, but also avails itself of nominalisation and periphrastic constructions. The second part of this chapter discusses explicit atemporal means for the coding of simultaneity. They include particles, spatial expressions, verbs of perception and anaphors.
Chapter 4 (Experimental part) Schmiedtová provides information on how she collected the simultaneity data to be examined in the following chapters. Schmiedtová used eleven television commercials which were retold by 40 learners (20 German speakers and 20 English speakers) and 20 native speakers of Czech. Each group of learners described the TV commercials (which generally did not involve any spoken language) both in their native languages (i.e. English or German) and in Czech. The second part of the chapter describes how the levels of proficiency of the two learner groups were evaluated. The author points out that she could not use any standard tests (p.108) so she had to devise an alternative method to assess the learners' proficiency in Czech. Her method was based on short warm-up interviews, the use of number marking and gender agreement between nouns and adjectives in the retellings, and, finally, the grading of the retellings by four examiners (one was the author herself). Out of the 20 English learners, 10 were classified as basic learners, 7 as medium learners, 3 as advanced learners. Out of the 20 German learners, 3 were classified as basic learners, 9 as medium learners, 8 as advanced learners.
Chapter 5 (Coding and analysing data) The author coded her data for eight independent variables, namely (1) number of learners performing the task first in their mother tongue and then in Czech (and vice versa), (2) age and number of participants, (3) gender, (4) stimulus set (only five out of the eleven commercials were used for the quantitative analysis although all eleven of them were used for the qualitative analysis), (5) language instruction (i.e. whether the subjects had received some tutored instruction in Czech), (6) level of proficiency (the author is aware that, given the low numbers of German beginners and English advanced learners, results related to these two groups may not be statistically significant), (7) source language and (8) knowledge of other Slavic languages. The chapter ends with some discussion of the dependent variables. For example, Schmiedtová distinguishes the following types of explicit temporal devices: aspectual marking, adverbials, phase verbs, prepositional phrases, when-clauses. Aspectual marking, in turn, is divided into simultaneity (i.e. aspectual contrast and aspectual juxtaposition) and sequentiality (i.e. two perfective marked verbs are used). Further, she identifies three patterns for the explicit expression of simultaneity: (1) the stronger aspectual style (i.e. only aspectual marking is used to code simultaneity), (2) the adverbial style (i.e. sequential aspectual marking is not used but temporal adverbials are), (3) the weaker aspectual style (i.e. aspectual marking is used in conjunction with other explicit temporal devices).
Chapter 6 (Results: native speakers) This chapter investigates how simultaneity is expressed by the subjects in their native languages. Schmiedtová finds that all native speakers prefer temporal means to atemporal means. In more detail, Czech speakers use more temporal devices than Germans and Germans use more temporal devices than English speakers. Further, both Czech speakers and English speakers favour the weaker aspectual style although the former use the stronger aspectual style more often than the latter (the difference is statistically significant). By contrast, Germans only use the adverbial style (since perfectivity vs. imperfectivity is not grammaticalised in their language).
Chapter 7 (Results: learners) In this chapter, Schmiedtová presents the results of her investigation into how English and German learners express simultaneity when retelling the commercials in Czech. Both groups favour temporal devices, although not to the same extent as native speakers do. German learners, unlike English learners, show a tendency to use more temporal devices when retelling in Czech than in their native language. In this sense, Schmiedtová regards the German subjects as more target-oriented than the English subjects. The author then provides a more fine-grained analysis of the explicit temporal means, first by discussing the behaviour of the two groups irrespective of their proficiency levels and then by analysing her findings in terms of their linguistic competence in Czech.
English speakers use aspectual marking much more than German learners and also more than Czech native speakers. In fact, English speakers mainly rely on the stronger aspectual style (this contrasts with their behaviour in their native language, where the weaker aspectual style is preferred). German learners slightly favour the adverbial style over the weaker aspectual style, while the stronger aspectual style is used much less (also in comparison with the English group). Schmiedtová concludes that "German learners seem to progress towards the target language [...] whereas English learners seem to depart [from it]." Another difference between the two groups involves the preferred use of aspectual contrast by German learners vs. the preferred use of aspectual juxtaposition by English learners. The two learner groups, however, behave similarly in that they use aspectual marking more often than they do in their native languages. Further, both groups mainly use the same type of additional explicit temporal devices in the weaker aspectual style (i.e. adverbials) and use fewer multiple combinations of explicit temporal devices compared to Czech speakers.
Moving on to the analysis of the simultaneity data in relation to the learners' proficiency levels, Schmiedtová points out that English learners seldom use explicit atemporal devices. In fact, they do so less and less as their proficiency level increases. Therefore, the author regards the use of explicit atemporal means as a "fallback strategy". As to explicit temporal means, Schmiedtová observed a decrease in the use of the stronger aspectual style in favour of the weaker aspectual style from beginners to advanced learners (the stronger aspectual style is by far the favoured style by beginners. This contrasts with Hendriks's 1999 findings). Further, aspectual juxtaposition, although preferred over aspectual contrast at all levels of proficiency (contrary to what is the case both in English and Czech), decreases from beginners to advanced learners.
Next, Schmiedtová reports her findings as far as German learners are concerned. She points out that the trend in the use of explicit atemporal means by German learners is opposite to the one observed for English speakers: the higher the level of proficiency, the more German learners rely on explicit atemporal means. She concludes that the use of explicit atemporal means cannot therefore be regarded as a "fallback strategy" employed by beginners. By contrast, the use of explicit temporal means increases with the level of proficiency, as was also the case for English learners. In more detail, German beginners use only the adverbial style. This shows that at the basic level of proficiency both English and German learners are influenced by their native languages. English learners overuse the stronger aspectual style while German learners overuse the adverbial style. Intermediate German learners still prefer the adverbial style but also employ (in equal measure) the stronger aspectual style and the weaker aspectual style. A similar picture emerges for advanced learners although advanced learners employ a higher number of different lexical devices than the intermediate group. Although the results for both advanced English and advanced German learners are similar, Schmiedtová observes that the English group is less target-like than the German group in that they ignore the adverbial style.
Chapter 8 (Some explanatory factors) The first part of this chapter focuses on the use of Czech aspect by the two groups of learners. Schmiedtová found that simplex imperfective verbs are preferred over simplex perfective verbs by both groups at all levels of proficiency. This is explained by the fact that Czech has more simplex imperfective verbs than simplex perfective verbs. The two groups differed however in that German learners used more derived perfective verbs than English learners and Czech speakers. English learners, on the other hand, derived both imperfective and perfective verbs equally well. Schmiedtová concludes that German learners focus on the derivation of aspect by prefixation while English learners focus on the derivation of aspect by suffixation. The author explains this contrast on the basis of her "perceptual saliency hypothesis", i.e. "learners pay attention to those features in the target language that are located in the same position as their counterparts in the source language" (p.245). Since German verbs are often prefixed, it follows that German learners should pay more attention to the left-side of verbs (i.e. derivation of aspect by prefixation in Czech). By contrast, since imperfectives in English are formed by suffixation, we expect English learners to pay more attention to the right-side of verbs (i.e. derivation of aspect by suffixation in Czech). This also means that the adverbial style cannot be regarded as the general device used by all learners of Czech. English learners, at the basic level, show a positive transfer of the English aspectual opposition. The use of the adverbial style by German learners should be analysed as a transfer from their native language. The chapter ends by showing that neither the type of instruction received (tutored vs. untutored) nor the knowledge of other Slavic languages influenced the use of aspect marking by English and German learners.
Chapter 9 (Conclusions) The last chapter summarises the most important findings of this study and provides answers to the three questions mentioned in chapter 1 (see summary above). Schmiedtová concludes that it is easier for English learners to use Czech aspect at the basic level of proficiency (first question). However, English learners may be mislead by their native language at more advanced levels of proficiency in that they overuse the imperfective aspect and underuse the adverbial style. That is, at more advanced levels, German learners are more target-like than English learners (second question). Finally, German learner data show more interaction between explicit devices for expressing simultaneity.
This book is a welcome contribution to the study of simultaneity, which has not been the focus of much scholarly attention so far. The author shows that English and German speakers differ in how they learn to express simultaneity in Czech and tries to relate this difference to their respective native languages (via the perceptual saliency hypothesis).
Although this book is a must-read for all those interested in the expression of simultaneity and, more generally, in language acquisition, I have one major "formal" concern and various observations regarding the analyses provided in the book.
Unfortunately, the book does not seem to have been proofread properly. There are very numerous typos. Sometimes, they are just spelling mistakes (e.g. "wekaer", p.259, "oveall", p.253, "asepctual", p.228 and so on). Sometimes, they are un-English expressions (such as the numerous instances of "like in" instead of "as in", not to mention the use of German "schreiben" for English "write" on page 33). Sometimes, typos are of a more serious nature. For example, there are two notes marked as 81 in the text (p.164 and p.173) so that the reader must always add one to the number given for each note after the second instance of note 81 (up to the final note, which is 97 in the text but 98 in the Notes section) to find the corresponding text at the end of the book. Further, captions are sometimes incomplete (e.g. Fig.7.8 and Fig.7.11) and there are also problems with the use of punctuation (e.g. the comma after "Probably only" on page 1). All in all, one has the impression that the text was prepared rather hastily and one might feel inclined to recommend that a new edition be published which amends as many typos as possible.
I must also point out that the content could have been organised in a more streamlined fashion. For example, the initial discussion of the various ways in which simultaneity can be expressed is excessively long, repetitive and sometimes confusing (e.g. the discussion of Aktionsart on pp.33-34). Some details could have been confined to footnotes. For example, the author mentions differences between the uses of "when", "while" and "as" but in the second part of the book she apparently conflates all cases where a temporal subordinator is employed under the label of "when-clauses". Since details about "when", "while" and "as" are not essential to the discussion, they could have been omitted from the text. (Incidentally, when Schmiedtová mentions "as" and "while" clauses in English, she states that "as" and "while" clauses require an imperfective form (p.63). This however is not correct. There are numerous cases where simultaneity "as" clauses do not employ the -ing form (for a preliminary analysis see Broccias, to appear)).
As a further illustration of problems involving the organisation and presentation of the material, consider the claim made on p.165 that "explicit atemporal devices are not combined with explicit temporal devices in the English data". But, if I followed the author's discussion correctly, then examples (6.21)-(6.23) on pp.156-157 contradict this claim since aspect is marked explicitly (e.g. in (6.22) a perfect and an imperfect were used) and explicit atemporal devices are used as well (e.g. "there", "she", "back", "his").
This leads me to the more general point of how data are interpreted in this study. I think that the author should have stressed much more that, in the case of German beginners and English advanced learners, her data cannot be taken to be statistically significant (since the number of learners is only three in both cases). Also, I find it difficult to understand why the author evaluates the behaviour of both English and German speakers (see e.g. Fig. 7.5) using statistical tests if some data is too sparse to yield to statistical analysis. This also applies to the main conclusions drawn in the book. Since there are only three advanced English learners and three German beginners, the trends observed (e.g. absence of the adverbial style in the productions by advanced English learners) should be treated very cautiously.
Finally, the author might perhaps have devoted more space to the explanatory part of her study. For example, what factors might explain the fact that Schmiedtová arrived at conclusions different from those of Hendriks (1999)? Why does the knowledge of other Slavic languages seem to have no effect on the learners (one might want to argue that the perceptual saliency hypothesis should also involve non-native languages)? Also, the author does not really provide an answer to the question of why Czech native speakers use aspect marking in combination with other explicit devices (p.152). Could this be related to the fact that human languages often code information redundantly? Of course, one cannot expect the author to answer all these (and related) questions in her monograph. Still, it might have been useful to stress that they constitute topics for future investigation.
All in all, Schmiedtová's monograph is an important contribution to both the study of the expression of simultaneity and language acquisition in general. It raises many interesting questions and paves the way for future research which may involve other languages than Czech, English and German. It is unfortunate, however, that proofreading has been neglected and that, perhaps, a more streamlined structure has not been adopted.
Broccias, Cristiano. To appear. The construal of simultaneity in English with special reference to as-clauses. Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics 4.
Hendriks, Henriëtte. 1999. The acquisition of temporal reference in first and second language acquisition: What children already know and adults still have to learn and vice versa. Psychology of Language and Communication 3: 41-59.
Klein, Wolfgang. 1994. Time in Language. London: Routledge.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Cristiano Broccias is a Research Fellow in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Genoa (Italy). He is interested in the description and cognitive linguistic analysis of English grammar, both synchronic and diachronic. His publications include a monograph on English change constructions, "The English Change Network: Forcing Changes into Schemas", Mouton de Gruyter, 2003.