Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





William McClure

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Linguistics | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures


Aspect Hypothesis, English as a second language (ESL), language acquisition, Mandarin Chinese, pragmatics, temporal expressions


This dissertation investigates the influences of pragmatic factors, lexical devices, as well as the lexical aspectual properties of verbs on second language learners' encoding of temporality in their target language. The pragmatic factors being investigated include a recency effect and the number of occurrences of a tense in the previous context, and the lexical devices include past-time temporal adverbials and frequency adverbs. The role of the lexical aspectual properties of verbs is checked against the Aspect Hypothesis, which states that learners will initially restrict past or perfective marking to achievement and accomplishment verbs and later gradually extend this usage to activity and stative verbs.

Unlike many previous studies, which collect data from learners of various native language backgrounds, the present study analyzes empirical data gathered solely from Mandarin Chinese-speaking ESL learners, whose native language temporality system differs dramatically from that of their target language. That is, Mandarin Chinese is a tenseless language, while English uses tense and verbal morphology to indicate temporal locations and relations.

The findings in the present study indicate that (i) a recency effect in a passage does not affect English native speakers' or Chinese native speakers' tense choice, (ii) both English native speakers and Chinese native speakers show a tendency to use the duplicated tense in the previous context to mark a test item in the following discourse, (iii) past-time temporal adverbials show an obvious tense reminding effect when there is no matrix agreement, (iv) the introduction of a frequency adverb is associated with a higher usage rate of the present tense for a test item in a past-time context, but not in a present-time context, and (v) no supporting evidence for the Aspect Hypothesis is found and the inherent lexical aspectual properties of verbs do not seem to influence on learners' tense choice.

The present study contributes to our understanding of the development of second language learners' expression of temporal locations and relations in their target language. It also raises the question of how English native speakers and second language learners are similar to each other in language processing.