Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

Institut für Deutsch als Fremdsprachenphilologie

Event conceptualization and grammatical aspect

Speaker: Emanuel Bylund

Affiliation: Stockholm University,

Title: Event conceptualization and grammatical aspect: Evidence from monolingual and bilingual speakers


The finding that speakers of aspect languages encode event endpoints to a lesser extent than do speakers of non-aspect languages has led to the hypothesis that there is a relationship between grammatical aspect and event conceptualization (e.g., von Stutterheim & Nüse, 2003).

The present study concerns L1 event conceptualization in 40 L1 Spanish – L2 Swedish bilinguals (all near-native speakers of Swedish). Spanish and Swedish differ as regards grammatical aspect: Whereas Swedish lacks this grammatical category, Spanish conveys aspect through verbal morphology and periphrasis. The aim of the study is two-fold: first, to examine L2 effects on event endpoint encoding in L1 Spanish; and second, to explore the relationship between event conceptualization patterns and formal language skills.

The participants were asked to provide oral L1 Spanish descriptions of video clips projecting motion events with different degrees of endpoint orientation (see von Stutterheim, 2002). In addition, they took a grammaticality judgment test concerning verb and gender agreement, verbal clitics and aspectual contrasts.

Compared with baseline data from monolingual Spanish speakers, the results on endpoint encoding show that the bilinguals focus on the endpoints of motion events to a higher degree than the Spanish control group does. This suggests that L2 patterns of endpoint encoding have been transferred to L1. Secondly, the results regarding endpoint frequency and formal language skills show that the weaker the bilinguals’ discrimination of aspectual errors, the more prone they are to encoding endpoints. This result consequently furthers the hypothesis about the interconnectedness between grammatical aspect and event conceptualization. Taken together, these findings suggest that the bilinguals have acquired the Swedish-like tendency to attend to the boundedness rather than the ongoingness of events.