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Acquisition of aspect in L2: The computation of event completion by Japanese learners of English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2020

Keiko Kaku-MacDonald
Ablenti, LLC
Juana M. Liceras
University of Ottawa; and Universidad Nebrija, Madrid
Nina Kazanina
University of Bristol; and Higher School of Economics, Russian Federation


Previous studies on the acquisition of semantics in the aspectual domain have suggested that a difficult case for achieving a targetlike representation in a second language arises when learners need to preempt a first language (L1) option (Gabriele, 2009). This study investigates this issue by focusing on a learning scenario where predicate-level variability exists in the L1 input. We investigate whether Japanese learners of English can learn to invalidate event cancellation readings (Tsujimura, 2003) in English and how such knowledge develops with increasing English proficiency. We address these questions by examining how Japanese learners of English interpret accomplishment predicates that allow an event cancellation reading in Japanese but not in English. A truth-value judgment task was administered to 60 beginner, 96 intermediate, and 40 advanced Japanese learners of English as well as 20 L1 English and 20 L1 Japanese speakers. Our results showed that Japanese learners of English progressed toward a targetlike representation of aspectual entailment. We argue that such progress follows two parallel routes: a grammatical route rooted in the learners’ growing awareness of the English determiner and number morphology combined with a statistical route rooted in the learners’ inferences based on missing data.

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