Lexical aspect and lexical saliency in acquisition of past tense-aspect morphology among Ibibio ESL learners
Willie, Willie Udo
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In the last two decades researchers in L2 acquisition research have tested a number of hypotheses that make well defined predictions about the developmental processes involved in L2 acquisition of tense-aspect morphology. Such hypotheses include the Lexical Aspect Hypothesis and the Cognitive Saliency Hypothesis. Lexical Aspect Hypothesis predicts that the lexical semantics of the verbal predicates determines the pattern of acquisition of verbal morphology at the early stages of interlanguage development (Andersen and Shirai 1995; Ayoun and Salaberry 2008; Bardovi-Harlig 2000) while the Cognitive Saliency Hypothesis predicts that the perceptual saliency of the verbal predicates determines the pattern of acquisition of verbal morphology (Salaberry 2000; Hawkins and Lizska 2003). Our aim was to test the joint effects of these two hypotheses in the interlanguage of Ibibio learners of English as a second language (ESL). Ibibio is a language spoken in the southeastern part of Nigeria by about five million speakers. We argue that two distinct but related cognitive processes are involved in the development of inflectional endings in a second language: the lexical-based learning which is operative at the lower levels of proficiency and the rule-based learning which is operative at the higher levels of proficiency. We elicited written narratives from 171 participants organized into six groups sampled from the primary schools, the secondary schools and the universities using three sets of picture stories with each set for each level of education. The participants were asked to narrate the stories depicted in the pictures stories. The results of the data analyses showed that lexical aspect had highly significant effects on acquisition of the past tense-aspect morphology with a chi-square statistics of (x2 = 196.92, df = 6, N = 1664, p = <.0001) indicating a strong dependency of acquisition of the past tense morphology on lexical aspect. Also, there was significant effects of lexical saliency on acquisition of the past tense with a chi-square statistics of (x2 = 23.54, df = 2, N = 1664, p = <.0001) indicating a strong dependency of acquisition of the past tense on lexical saliency. However, the effect of lexical aspect was more prominent among the learners at the higher levels of proficiency while the reverse was the case for the effects of lexical saliency. Positive effects of instruction and effects of L1 were also reported.
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