The relationship between inherent aspect and past tense

in the acquisition of Polish learned as L2 


Agnieszka Błaszczyk-Szabat (Wrocław)


The paper describes the results of an empirical study concerning the acquisition of tense-aspect morphology in Polish learnt as a second language at the background of the so called Aspect Hypothesis developed by Andersen (1984, 1991). Andersen advocates a strong relationship between lexical aspect and past tense. Accordingly, beginner learners of English and other languages as L1 or L2 typically associate telic verbs with past tense inflections, while atelic verbs obtain much lower percentages of correct use of past tense morphology. In view of the current popularity of this framework I would like to verify its relevance for a Slavic language such as Polish, where the distinction between lexical aspect and grammatical aspect is not so obvious as in Germanic languages. I will demonstrate that despite the existing controversy lexical (or in other words, inherent) aspect exists in Polish and that the Aspect Hypothesis can well be verified against Polish acquired as L2, which, to my knowledge, has not been done yet.


Traditionally verb phrases in Polish are discussed with respect to the perfective versus imperfective distinction (called viewpoint aspect by Smith 1997). Although linguists interested in Slavic languages have predominantly studied grammatical aspect, drawing on works of e.g. Vendler (1957), Dahl (1981), Smith (1997), and Grzegorczykowa (1997), I claim that both grammatical aspect and lexical aspect can be discussed with reference to Polish. Assuming the above, I will attempt to account for the distribution of past tense inflections on the onset of acquisition of L2 Polish. Next I will compare the findings with the results I obtained in a cross-sectional study of intermediate learners of Polish as L2. Finally I will analyse the data in comparison to crosslinguistic results of studies in the framework of the Aspect Hypothesis. The results of the preliminary research I carried out on a group of foreigners acquiring Polish as L2 can be summarised as follows: 


(a) Early past tense marking appears on achievements and accomplishments (71% and 73% accuracy respectively). 

(b) States and activities receive a considerably lower rate of correct past tense marking (approximately 50%). 

(c) The studied past tense marking appears irrespective from the viewpoint aspect.


In my paper I show that the intermediate group does not fully conform to the findings listed above, though the crucial role of inherent aspect categories mapped into past tense does influence the performance of the learners. The acquisition of aspect, especially in learning foreign languages with complex aspectual systems will pose a problem also on higher levels of acquisition. 


Selected references:


Andersen, R.  (1984). The one to one principle of interlanguage construction. Language Learning 34: 77-95. 

Andersen, R. W. (1991). Developmental sequences: the emergence of aspect marking in second language acquisition. Crosscurrents in SLA and linguistic theories. Heubner, T, and A. Ferguson, 305- 24. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins. 

Comrie, B. (1976). Aspect. Cambridge: CUP. 

Dahl, O. (1981).  On the definition of the telic-atelic (bounded- unbounded) distinction. Syntax and Semantics 14: 79-90. 

Grzegorczykowa, R. (1997). Nowe spojrzenie na kategorię aspektu w perspektywie semantyki kognitywnej. Grzegorczykowa, R. and Zaron, z. (eds.) Semantyczna struktura słownictwa i wypowiedzi. Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego. 

Smith, C. S. (1997). The parameter of aspect. Second edition. Dordrecht: Kluwer. 

Vendler, Z. (1967). Linguistic in philosophy. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.