Chapter 9. Present tense as a neutral form in the L2 French of Chinese L1 speakers

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This chapter illustrates the claim that Chinese L1 speakers acquiring French as an L2 may face a double challenge stemming from their previous experience of a language without grammatical tense. For these learners, the process of ascertaining the temporal value of French tenses as well as their aspectual values may be hindered by negative transfer from the L1. This chapter starts with a brief description of the tense-aspect system of French and Mandarin Chinese, highlighting the main differences between them; it then presents analyses and results from a study based on narrative stretches relating to past situations extracted from the blogs written by the participants. We claim that French present tense is often used as a neutral form by Chinese L1 speakers, rather than being a default or base form typical of lower L2 proficiency. Arguments supporting this claim are based both on comparative linguistic descriptions and on semantic analyses of the learner’s productions, taking into account the interaction of lexical aspect and overt tense marking. The chapter ends with a discussion of the results weighing the explicative power of the transfer hypothesis as opposed to universalist hypotheses.


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