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  • Tense and aspect in second language acquisition: Form, meaning and use by Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig
  • Asya Pereltsvaig
Tense and aspect in second language acquisition: Form, meaning and use. By Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. Pp. xvi, 492. Paper $36.95.

This book investigates second language acquisition of temporal expressions (or what has been called ‘time talk’). Like most of the research in L2 temporal semantics, this book focuses on the expression of past tense, which is characterized by a displacement of the event from the time of speaking and thus requires a marker of some sort. A variety of linguistic devices may be used to mark the displaced temporal reference, most common of which are adverbials and verbal morphology. This book studies how these markers are acquired by L2 learners. This book may be read from three perspectives. First, it summarizes extensive research (by Bardovi-Harlig herself and other researchers) on L2 acquisition of temporality, including descriptions of acquisitional stages for a number of European languages, discussions of principles of acquisition, and proposed universals. Second, this book is also about methodology used to collect and interpret data; various frameworks and approaches are examined here. Third, ‘the book is as much as an invitation to do research in second language temporal expression as it is a summary and synthesis of the research that has been conducted thus far’ (3). The book consists of seven chapters and concludes with a useful reference list and index.

The first chapter provides a useful introduction to the issues discussed in later chapters. Ch. 2 presents studies that employ the meaning-oriented approach. The focus of this chapter is the early stages of acquisition—the pragmatic and lexical stages—when means other than verbal morphology are used to encode temporality.

Chs. 3–5 are dedicated to the form-oriented approach. Ch. 3 presents a longitudinal study of the expression of past which examines the sequence of emergence of temporal morphology (i.e. simple past, past progressive, present perfect, and pluperfect). The developing interlanguage system of sixteen learners is examined from the point of view of both form-accuracy and form-to-meaning mapping. Ch. 4 surveys the crosslinguistic literature on the aspect hypothesis and presents a cross-sectional study of English as a second language. Special attention is paid in this chapter to examining the research design and the effects of different quantitative analyses on the interpretation of results. Ch. 5 examines the research on the relation of discourse structure and the distribution of tense-aspect morphology in second languages.

Ch. 6 investigates the influence of instruction on the acquisition of temporal expression. Experimental studies are reviewed, and instructed and uninstructed learners are compared. Ch. 7 provides a summary of the research on the acquisition of ‘time talk’ by L2 learners and posits questions for future research.

This book makes an important contribution to the study of acquisition of temporal expression by L2 learners and provides a welcome base for comparison between L2 and L1 learners. The overview of various research methodologies and their advantages and disadvantages is also of great value to the field. This book will serve as a useful reference tool for future research in second language acquisition.

Asya Pereltsvaig
University of Tromsø


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