There is no prime for time: the missing link between form and concept of progressive aspect in L2 production

The acquisition of linguistic structures that require perspective-taking at the level of message generation is challenging. We investigate use of progressive aspect in L2 event encoding, using a sentence priming paradigm. We focus on Dutch, in which use of progressive aspect is optional. The progressive consists of a prepositional phrase (‘aan het,’ at-the), plus a verbal infinitive. We ask, to what extent L2 speakers, in comparison to native speakers, show priming effects in relation to form (prepositional phrase) or conceptual (progressive aspect) prime sentences. In native Dutch speakers we find a priming effect for the ‘progressive prime,’ compared to a ‘neutral prime’ (aspectually neutral event description). In L2 speakers this effect was absent. For the form prime, no priming effects were obtained in native speakers, rather, we find evidence for a partial blocking effect in L2 speakers. Results suggest that the strength of the link between concept and form of progressive aspect differs in native and L2 speakers. Specific factors contributed to the L2 findings, e.g., level of L2 proficiency and degree of L2 exposure. We conclude that (1) the conceptual basis of grammatical aspect can be primed in native speakers, and (2) in L2 speakers, access to conceptual information is less automatized.
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