Task Design in L2 Tense
and Aspect Research: What
matters?
Nicole Tracy-Ventura
Laura Dominguez
University of Southampton
Contact email: [email protected]
Spanish Learner Language
Oral Corpus Project
 Collaboration between the Universities of
Southampton, Newcastle, and Greenwich.
 Additional Team Members:


Rosamond Mitchell, Florence Myles, and María Arche
Tim Boardman, web design and IT support
 Previous Projects:
 SPLLOC 1 (www.splloc.soton.ac.uk)
 FLLOC (www.flloc.soton.ac.uk)
SPLLOC 2
 Main Goal: to test the validity of the Aspect and the
Discourse Hypotheses with reference to the acquisition of
perfective and imperfective forms in L2 Spanish.
 Relevant features:
1.
2.
3.
Cross-sectional design with native speaker controls
A combination of different task types
Data available online for use by other researchers
Audio files (mp3 & .wav)
Transcripts (CHILDES)
Tagged files (MOR)
Perfective and Imperfective forms in
Spanish
 Perfective (preterit): bounded
 Llegué tarde. (I arrived late.)
 Preparaste el almuerzo. (You prepared lunch.)
 Ella pintó. (She painted).
 Imperfective (imperfect): unbounded



Llegaba tarde. (I would arrive late/was arriving late)
Ella preparaba el almuerzo cuando … (She was
preparing lunch when…)
Estaban cansados. (They were tired)
SPLLOC 2 Research Questions:
1.
Emergence: What is the pattern of Tense-Aspect
development of English L2 learners of Spanish?
2.
AH VS DH: Can the observed pattern be accounted for by
the Aspect Hypothesis, the Discourse Hypothesis, or
both?
3.
Acquisition of Imperfective Semantic meanings: Which
reading is the imperfect associated with in the first place
(habitual, continuous, progressive)?
L2 Tense and Aspect Research
 Various hypotheses proposed to explain the L2 acquisition of
tense-aspect morphology. For example:
 Aspect Hypothesis (Andersen & Shirai, 1994,1996)
 Discourse Hypothesis (Bardovi-Harlig, 1998)
 Default Past Tense Hypothesis (Salaberry, 1999, 2008)
 Distributional Bias Hypothesis (Andersen, 1994)
 Minimalist Hypothesis (Montrul & Slabakova, 2002)
 Despite a large body of research, still several issues to be
resolved:
 Inconclusive results when comparing competing hypotheses
(AH vs. DH).
 Acquisition of the imperfective has not been adequately
addressed (Bardovi-Harlig, 2005).
Aspect Hypothesis
(Andersen & Shirai, 1994, 1996)
 Perfective and Imperfective morphology
emerge in a sequence determined by the
inherent semantic properties of the
verbal predicate

Telic


Atelic

Achievements (recognize, wake up)
Accomplishments (build a house, write a
letter)
Activities (swim, walk, sing)
States (be, want, love)
Aspect Hypothesis predictions for
Spanish
PERFECTIVE: ACH – ACC – ACT – STA
telic
atelic
IMPERFECTIVE: STA – ACT – ACC – ACH
atelic
telic
Prototypical Pairings: acquired first
PERFECTIVE: ACH – ACC – ACT – STA
telic
atelic
IMPERFECTIVE: STA – ACT – ACC – ACH
atelic
telic
Non-Prototypical Pairings:
acquired later
PERFECTIVE: ACH – ACC – ACT – STA
telic
atelic
IMPERFECTIVE: STA – ACT – ACC – ACH
atelic
telic
Discourse Hypothesis
(Bardovi-Harlig 1998)
 L2 learners’ use of temporal-aspectual forms
is guided by narrative structure

FOREGROUND



moves time along chronologically
PERFECTIVE
BACKGROUND


supporting information, description, evaluation,
prediction
IMPERFECTIVE
Studies testing the DH vs. AH
 For example:
 Bardovi-Harlig (1998)
 Liskin-Gasparro (2000)
 López-Ortega (2000)
 Comajoan & Pérez Saldanya (2005)
 Salaberry (2009)
 Results complicated because the cases where the
hypotheses make opposite predictions have been
difficult to elicit using more free and open-ended
tasks
Non-Prototypical Pairings
What about the ‘elusive imperfect’?
(Bardovi-Harlig, 2005)
 The imperfect has multiple semantic
interpretations but research has rarely taken
this into consideration.

(e.g., habitual, progressive, continuous)
 Are there meanings of the imperfect acquired
before others?
In sum
 Various hypotheses have been proposed to explain the
acquisition of past tense morphology. How do we make
sense of all the results?
 Ayoun & Salaberry (2005) suggest that it’s not that one
hypothesis is right and another is wrong. Each hypothesis
might explain a different stage of development.
 However,


What if our elicitation tasks are to blame?
Most studies have not designed tasks considering
prototypical and nonprototypical forms and discourse role.
Elicitation Tasks
in Tense-Aspect Research
 Oral:
 Personal narratives
 Impersonal narratives
(e.g., Modern Times)
 Role-plays
 Interviews and semistructured interviews
 Free conversation
 Written:
 Personal narratives
 Impersonal narratives
 Essays/compositions
 Multiple choice
 Fill-in-the-blank
 Appropriateness
judgments
 Sentence conjunction
*Most studies use one or two task types, not a range.
Issues with Tasks
 Problems eliciting past tense morphology with
prompts such as “What happened in the
story”:


Learners and NS use historical present
Learners and NS focus on main events, i.e.,
foreground and not as much on background.
 Few nonprototypical pairings occur naturally
 Lafford (1996) no nonprototypical imperfect
pairings
Task type can affect:
1. amount of lexical diversity

Film retells – much higher percentage of achievement
verbs than the three other lexical aspect classes
(Bardovi-Harlig, 2000)
2. amount of foreground and background


Impersonal narratives – more examples of foreground
than background (Liskin-Gasparro, 2000).
personal narratives – usually less constrained and often
include more background (Bardovi-Harlig, 2005).
3. rates of appropriate use

Learners most accurate with cloze tests, then written
retells, then spoken retells (Bardovi-Harlig, 1998; Camps,
2002)
Conclusions
 Need tasks that accomplish the following:
 naturally elicit the past tense
 elicit a variety of verb types in both prototypical and
nonprototypical pairings.
 are rich in background (vs. foreground).
 elicit the imperfect with different meanings (habitual,
progressive, continuous).
 Need to have the same learners (across proficiency
levels) do a variety of text and task types:



Narratives, description, biographical
controlled vs. less controlled
production and comprehension
SPLLOC 2 Participants
Group
Number
Age
Hours of instruction
Year 10
20
14-15
c200 hours
17-18
c500 hours
21-23
Final Year
18
Year 13
(target:20)
Undergraduates
20
Post Year Abroad
Native Speakers
15
14-28
N/A
SPLLOC 2 Tasks
Task Type
Research Questions
Format
Las Hermanas: picture-based story
1. Impersonal Controlled
Narrative
RQ 1: Emergence
RQ 2: AH vs. DH
2. Impersonal Narrative
RQ 1: Emergence
RQ 2: AH vs. DH
Cat Story: picture-based story
3. Semi-structured Interview
RQ 1: Emergence
RQ 2: AH vs. DH
Personal interview based on
learners’ past experiences
Task Type
Research Questions
Format
4. Comprehension task
RQ 3: Semantic meanings of the On-line context dependant
imperfect
preference task
5. Production task
RQ 1: Emergence
RQ 3: Progressive meaning of
the imperfect
Simultaneous Actions: Picturebased production task
Las Hermanas: controlled impersonal
narrative
 Main task design issues:



How to prompt learners to tell the story in the
past
How to demonstrate habituality with a picturebased narrative
How to find pictures to demonstrate
prototypical and nonprototypical pairings
Las Hermanas: controlled impersonal
narrative




Written by the research team
Drawn by a hired artist – ©SPLLOC 2009
Verb phrases provided (infinitive form)
Targeted nonprototypical pairings (where AH &
DH make opposite predictions)
ACH
ACC
ACT
STA
Total
FORE
2
1
6
4
13
BACK
3
7
1
1
12
Total
5
8
7
5
25
Las vacaciones de Sarah y Gwen en España
Gwen
Sarah
Prompt to push
use of past
Verano del 2006
Foreground:
En MADRID
(visitar) la ciudad
(comer) tapas
(beber) vino
Prompt to push
use of past
Después decidieron ir a Barcelona
(coger) el tren
(hablar) sobre su niñez
Background begins:
Prompts to push
use of past
1996
De pequeñas, (ser) muy diferentes
Prompt to push
use of habitual
past
Gwen de niña…cada fin de semana
(leer) un libro
(escribir) un cuento
(pintar) un cuadro
Cat Story: Impersonal narrative
 Story adapted from "Missing" by Jonathan
Langley ©Francais Lincoln 2000
 Rich in background information, both habitual
actions and progressive.
 Learners were given time to preview the story
before starting.
 Task Design Issues: same as other narrative
Prompt: Start of Background
Todas las mañanas eran iguales…
(Every morning was the same…)
Prompt to push
use of past and
to be habitual
Prompt: Start of Foreground
Hasta que un día …
(Until one day…)
Interview
 Task Design Issues:



How to elicit personal narratives (vs.
impersonal)
How to elicit nonprototypical pairings of
activities and states in the preterit
How to engage learners in the task (especially
youngest group)
Interview: warm-up, biographical
information
John Lennon
Diana, Princesa
de Gales
Adolf Hitler
¿Qué sabes de estas personas? ¿Por qué eran famosos?
Interview, autobiographical
information
El fin de
semana
pasado
7-11
años
Mi primer
recuerdo
3-6
años
12
años ahora
Cuéntame cosas de tu vida…
Simultaneous Actions
 Task Design Issues:
 How to make sure we had opportunities for learners to
use the imperfect for past progressive actions
 How to demonstrate progressivity with pictures
 How to prompt learners to describe the pictures in the
past
 How to find pictures to demonstrate prototypical and
nonprototypical pairings
 All pictures drawn by a hired artist, ©SPLLOC 2009
Javier and Silvia are cousins who travelled together to
Mexico for holiday. They just arrived today and have
already done a couple of things:
BILLETES
But…all day yesterday they were very busy getting ready
for their trip. What were they doing?
Prompt:
Mientras Javier…, Silvia…
9.00
levantarse
10.00
leer una carta
9.00
preparar café
10.00
escuchar música
Comprehension Task
 Task Design Issues:



Need to include all lexical aspect classes in
both preterit and imperfect contexts.
Need to include items testing the various
imperfect interpretations
Need to include a context that adequately
settings the scene.
Comprehension Task
Learners were
given the prompt
in English
Data Analysis – Oral Tasks
 All audio recordings transcribed according to
CHAT conventions (CHILDES)
 Transcriptions checked and anonymised
 Transcriptions morpho-syntactically tagged
(MOR)
 Transcriptions coded with specific aspectual
and discursive features (VCX)
Participant’s Utterance
*H26:
%mor:
%vcx:
*H26:
%mor:
%vcx:
*H26:
%mor:
%vcx:
de pequeñas eran muy diferentes .
prep|de=of adj|pequeño-FEM-PL=small vpas|se-3P&PAS=be
adv|muy=very adj|diferente-PL=different .
verb_STA|se-3P&PAS=be IMPF CORR TARGET 6| BACK
continuous
Gwen de niña leía un libro .
n:prop|Gwen prep|de=of n|niño-FEM=child vpas|lee13S&PAS=read det:art|un&MASC=one n|libro&MASC=book .
verb_ACC|lee-13S&PAS=read IMPF CORR TARGET 7| BACK
habitual
pintaba un cuadro .
vpas|pinta-13S&PAS=paint det:art|un&MASC=one
n|cuadro&MASC=square .
verb_ACC|pinta-13S&PAS=paint IMPF CORR TARGET 8| BACK
habitual
MOR tagged line
*H26:
%mor:
%vcx:
*H26:
%mor:
%vcx:
*H26:
%mor:
%vcx:
de pequeñas eran muy diferentes .
prep|de=of adj|pequeño-FEM-PL=small vpas|se-3P&PAS=be
adv|muy=very adj|diferente-PL=different .
verb_STA|se-3P&PAS=be IMPF CORR TARGET 6| BACK
continuous
Gwen de niña leía un libro .
n:prop|Gwen prep|de=of n|niño-FEM=child vpas|lee13S&PAS=read det:art|un&MASC=one n|libro&MASC=book
verb_ACC|lee-13S&PAS=read IMPF CORR TARGET 7| BACK
habitual
pintaba un cuadro .
vpas|pinta-13S&PAS=paint det:art|un&MASC=one
n|cuadro&MASC=square .
verb_ACC|pinta-13S&PAS=paint IMPF CORR TARGET 8| BACK
habitual
VCX tagged line
*H26:
%mor:
%vcx:
*H26:
%mor:
%vcx:
*H26:
%mor:
%vcx:
de pequeñas eran muy diferentes .
prep|de=of adj|pequeño-FEM-PL=small vpas|se-3P&PAS=be
adv|muy=very adj|diferente-PL=different .
verb_STA|se-3P&PAS=be IMPF CORR TARGET 6| BACK
continuous
Gwen de niña leía un libro .
n:prop|Gwen prep|de=of n|niño-FEM=child vpas|lee13S&PAS=read det:art|un&MASC=one n|libro&MASC=book .
verb_ACC|lee-13S&PAS=read IMPF CORR TARGET 7| BACK
habitual
pintaba un cuadro .
vpas|pinta-13S&PAS=paint det:art|un&MASC=one
n|cuadro&MASC=square .
verb_ACC|pinta-13S&PAS=paint IMPF CORR TARGET 8| BACK
habitual
Preliminary Results
 Tasks were successful at eliciting past.
 Pictures worked well for eliciting different
lexical aspect classes and
habitual/progressive events.
 More equal amounts of
foreground/background elicited in the
narratives.
Controlled Impersonal Narrative:
Las Hermanas
 2220 predicates were
coded:

Y10 = 497
Y13 = 516
UG = 587
NS = 620
 Foreground = 47%
Background = 53%
 Achievements = 20%,
Accomplishments = 26%
Activities = 25%,
States = 29%
Percentage of production within lexical
aspect classes, Controlled narrative
ACH
ACC
ACT
STA
FORE
46.40%
23.30%
72.34%
46.26%
BACK
53.60%
76.70%
27.66%
53.74%
Cat Story – Native Speakers only
 818 predicates coded
 35% preterit
48% imperfect
7% past progressive
5% present
 40% Foreground
60% Background
 Achievements = 36%
Accomplishments = 15%
Activities = 27%
States = 22%
Within Lexical Aspect Class Analysis,
Cat Story – NS
ACH
ACC
ACT
STA
FORE
64.97%
44.44%
25.79%
11.30%
BACK
35.03%
55.56%
74.21%
88.70%
Next steps in analysis
 Finish coding all tasks
 Consider across-group and within-group
results for evidence of developmental stages
 Compare learners’ use of imperfect
morphology on production tasks with the
results of the comprehension task
 Compare learners’ performance across
production tasks
TBLT Implications
 Past tense morphology is a developmental feature.
 When designing tasks:
 pay attention to the verb phrases used
 Are there both prototypical and nonprototypical
pairings?
 consider the amount of foreground and background.
 Try to include equal amounts
 think about how useful prompts are
 use various text and task types
Spanish Learner Language Oral Corpus
(SPLLOC)
Thank you!
www.splloc.soton.ac.uk
Funded by the UK Economic and
Social Research Council (award
RES-062-23-1075)
References
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(pp. 527-570). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
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Task Design in L2 Tense and Aspect Research: What matters?