Second Language Acquisition of Telicity by Persian Learners of English

By Falhasiri, Mohammad; Youhanaee, Manijeh et al. | International Journal of Linguistics, March 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Second Language Acquisition of Telicity by Persian Learners of English


Falhasiri, Mohammad, Youhanaee, Manijeh, Barati, Hossein, International Journal of Linguistics


Abstract

This study investigates L2 acquisition of telicity, in particular, how the Persian EFL learners interpret a/telic sentences comparing with English native speakers. To the mentioned aim, 70 EFL learners of English assigned to four groups of elementary, low intermediate, high intermediate and advanced as well as 10 native speakers were asked to contribute to the present study. The participants were to judge whether some telic and atelic sentences were compatible with the given contexts or not. The results revealed that Iranian EFL learners were more successful with telic structures comparing with atelic ones.

Keywords: Telicity, Count and mass noun, Morpho-syntax

1. Introduction

Aristotle is generally credited with the initial observation that there are semantic properties which differentiate some verbs from others. In the Metaphysics, he observed that the meaning of some verbs suggests the idea of a "telos", a result or an endpoint, in a way that the meanings of other verbs do not (Dowty 1979). This is what has come to be known as the feature of telicity. Salabakova (2000) defines a clause as telic if the situation it describes has a natural (inherent) endpoint, which has to be reached, and after which the situation cannot conceivably continue. A clause is defined as atelic if the situation it describes has no such endpoint. Here are some examples of telic and atelic sentences

(1) Fatima washed the dishes. (Telic)

(2) Fatima washed dishes. (Atelic)

As can be construed from example (1), Fatima washed all of the dishes and no dirty dish is left. This interpretation is justified since the article "the" indicates that all of the dishes are done. In example (2), however, Fatima has not necessarily washed all of the dishes; hence, it is an example of unfinished action and therefore atelic.

In the literature, different scholars have different definitions for telicity with respect to clausal syntactic structure. Filip (2005) reviewed some articles on how telicity was defined with respect to clausal syntactic structure assumed to be generated in a functional projection above the VP. She pointed out that telicity is identified with AspP (Aspect Phrase) (e.g., Travis, 1991; McClure, 1995; Ramchand, 2002), with AgrO (Agreement of Object) in (e.g., Van Hout, 1996, 2000; Borer, 1994; Ritter & Rosen, 1998; Schmitt, 1996), with AspQ (Aspect of Quantity) in Borer (2004). The examples below from Filip (2005) further clarify the term telicity.

(3) Ivan ate soup for ten minutes.

(4) Ivan ate the soup in ten minutes.

(5) Ivan ate three pears in ten minutes.

Filip (2005), reporting Van Hout (2000), states that in English, count versus mass noun morpho-syntax of the direct object is taken to be correlated with the interpretation of the VP to be either telic or atelic, i.e. the presence of article in example (4) makes it telic while the absence, as in example (3), determines atelic interpretation of the VP. Borer (2004) also includes examples like those in (5) claiming that telicity is identified with the property of 'quantity', manifested in nominal and verbal expressions. In English, it is assigned indirectly to AspQby the 'quantity' direct object. In (4), 'quantity' is assigned by the definite article "the", and in (5) by the cardinal quantifier "three" (Filip, 2005).

Not only Borer (2004) but also Slabakova (2000) mentioned cardinality of DPs as a distinction. In Slabakova's words, A "DP" is of specified cardinality if its denotation can be exhaustively counted or measured. A "DP" is of unspecified cardinality if its denotation cannot be exhaustively counted or measured. Take examples in (6) and (7) from Slabakova (2000) for further clarification.

(6) an apple, three apples, the cake Specified cardinality

(7) apples, cake Unspecified Cardinality

This means that in English, the presence of a direct object that specifies some specific quantity is necessary to derive a telic interpretation (Borer, 2005; Tenny, 1994; Ritter & Rosen, 1998; Verkuyl, 1972, 1993). …

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