The acquisition of tense-aspect morphology among Tanzanian EFL learners
Upor, Rose Acen
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Though the acquisition of tense-aspect has been widely studied over the last two decades (e.g. Bardovi-Harlig, 1992a, 1994, 1998, 2000; Salaberry, 1999, 2000a, 2000b; Andersen and Shirai, 1995; Shirai, 1991, 2007, etc.), most of its focus has been on L2 acquisition. Recently, aspectual studies have branched towards investigation in foreign language settings (Robison, 1990, 1995; Ayoun & Salaberry, 2008; Collins, 2002) of which the current study is no exception. This cross-sectional study investigates the acquisition of tense-aspect morphology among 309 Tanzanian English as Foreign Language (EFL) learners. These learners were drawn from both rural and urban Tanzania and they also comprised learners from primary, secondary and university levels. This diversity of participants has been rarely examined in the field of Foreign Language Learning (FLL) and Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Using the Aspect Hypothesis (AH), the study addresses two main areas (1) the distribution of tense-aspect morphology, and (2) an account for the distribution of tense-aspect morphology. The investigation employed picture stories about which the participants wrote narratives, raw score and percentages of tokens, and statistical analysis that tested the study hypotheses. The findings underscore the effect of lexical aspect on the use of past tense markers and on individual groups of participants while highlighting a significant departure from the predictions of the AH: (1) limited influence of lexical aspect on the emergence of tense-aspect morphology among Tanzanian EFL learners based on the results of the hypothesis testing, (2) limited support for the Aspect hypothesis based on the results of raw scores analysis and percentages and also intermittent emergence of tense marking across lexical aspectual classes (telic > atelic > telic>/atelic > telic > atelic) and, (3) overgeneralization of the progressive to statives despite participants being tutored in the target language. Other findings include; (4) a potential effect in the instruction of the simple past while there was also no significant effect of instruction across some groups of learners even though they were more than a grade level higher than other participants and, (5) cross-linguistic influences on the distribution of tense-aspect and on the framing of narratives in terms of sentence structure. Possible theoretical factors that might account for the study findings are discussed as well.