Chapter 10. The simple present and the expression of temporality in L1 English and L2 English oral narratives

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The simple/progressive aspectual contrast is fundamental in present-based narratives in English: the simple present encodes temporally sequenced events whereas the progressive creates a close-up effect and introduces a perspective “from within”, often associated with the subjective viewpoint of the narrator (Chuquet 1994). This dichotomy is, nonetheless, cancelled in certain types of oral narratives, such as the narrative commentaries, where the simple present has been shown to take over some of the functional-semantic scope of the progressive form (Williams 2002). On the basis of a corpus of 12 L1 English and 12 L2 English oral narratives elicited by means of a picture book, we show that the simple present is used as a default form in L1 English narratives, irrespective of the narrative function of the predicate or of its inherent semantic properties. In L2 English, the advanced French-speaking learners differ from the English native speakers in their choice of temporal linkage, which favors the use of the progressive form, and struggle to construct a cohesive temporal perspective in their stories. This indicates that discourse use of tense-aspect morphology remains a challenge for advanced learners, in part because it is informed by information selection patterns embedded in the learners’ L1.


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