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Regular Past Tense Acquisition in L2 English: The Roles of Perceptual Salience and Readiness

Title:

Regular Past Tense Acquisition in L2 English: The Roles of Perceptual Salience and Readiness

Dwight, Victoria (2012) Regular Past Tense Acquisition in L2 English: The Roles of Perceptual Salience and Readiness. Masters thesis, Concordia University.

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Abstract

The goal of the present study was to investigate two factors that might play a role in the
acquisition of a challenging feature of English for second language learners: the regular simple
past (-ed, as in walked, learned). The first was whether learners benefited more from instruction
providing practice perceiving the past in running speech once they had demonstrated some
emergent knowledge of the form (the learner readiness issue, Pienemann, 1989). The second was
whether the greater sonority of the regular past tense allomorph /d/ (learned) compared with the
lower sonority of /t/ (walked) would result in the /d/ allomorph being acquired earlier than the /t/
allomorph (the perceptual salience issue, Goldschneider & DeKeyser, 2001). It was predicted
that, following the instruction, ready learners would be superior to unready in both regular past
tense written and perception accuracy, and that the /d/ allomorph would be acquired earlier than
the /t/ allomorph. The participants were 11-12 year old (n = 35) intensive ESL students in
Quebec. The study followed a pre-test/post-test/delayed-post tense design, and took place over 10
weeks. The learners’ ability to produce and perceive the regular past was assessed through
contextualized listening and writing tasks. A mixed ANOVA compared performance of ready and
unready learners, as well as perception accuracy of /d/ and /t/ allomorphs in the perceptual
training tasks over time. Independent samples t tests compared gain scores of ready and unready
learners in picture-prompted written tasks prior to and following the perceptual training. Findings
showed that all learners’ perception of simple past improved over time, with the more salient
allomorph /d/ being perceived more accurately than /t/, thus supporting the hypothesis that
salience plays a role in acquisition not only in the order of grammatical morphemes in general,
but also within allomorphs of the same morpheme. Results regarding readiness showed that ready
learners did not demonstrate greater rates of acquisition in perception or in production compared
to unready learners, suggesting that readiness might not be applicable to the acquisition of the
regular past tense form. The discussion will consider the pedagogical implications of these
findings, such as (a) whether instruction of the regular past might benefit from addressing the
allomorphs separately by attending to the more salient allomorph prior to the more difficult
allomorph, and (b) whether the quality of the practice might be more beneficial than readiness in
terms of rate of acquisition given that all learners demonstrated great improvement in the skill
that was practiced (i.e., perception).

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Education
Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Authors:Dwight, Victoria
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.A.
Program:Applied Linguistics
Date:15 January 2012
Thesis Supervisor(s):Collins, Laura
Keywords:perceptual salience, readiness, regular past tense, acquisition order, allomorphs, consonant cluster
ID Code:36310
Deposited By:VICTORIA DWIGHT
Deposited On:19 Jun 2012 13:58
Last Modified:25 Jul 2014 14:42
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