The Aspect Hypothesis: Development of Morphology and Appropriateness of Use


  • Llorenç Comajoan

    Corresponding author
    1. Middlebury College
      Llorenç Comajoan, Spanish Department, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT 05753. Internet:
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  • I would like to thank the three learners in this study for their patience and willingness to participate for a long period of time. I am grateful to the anonymous Language Learning reviewers, Manel Pérez Saldanya, Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, and all the other colleagues who read earlier versions of the article. This research was partly funded by the grant C-RED 2004 of the Generalitat de Catalunya (Universitat de Barcelona, Departament de Lingüística).

Llorenç Comajoan, Spanish Department, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT 05753. Internet:


According to the aspect hypothesis (Andersen & Shirai, 1996; Bardovi-Harlig, 2000), perfective morphology emerges before imperfective morphology, it is first used in telic predicates (achievements and accomplishments) and it later extends to atelic predicates (activities and states). The opposite development is hypothesized for imperfective morphology. This study proposes to investigate the emergence of preterite and imperfect morphology in Catalan to examine if the aspectual characteristics of predicates can account for the emergence of morphology and also appropriate use. Past verbal forms in narratives produced by three multilingual learners of Catalan as a foreign language were coded for appropriateness of use, morphology, and lexical aspect. An aspectual analysis of the data provided support for the aspect hypothesis, because achievement and accomplishment predicates in general were inflected for preterite morphology more frequently than were activity and state predicates, and the opposite was found for the emergence of imperfect morphology. The aspectual trends, however, varied for individual learners, tasks, and developmental stages. An analysis of the appropriate use of preterite and imperfect forms showed that morphology was used appropriately in almost all contexts. Prototypical combinations of morphology and aspect tended to be used more appropriately than nonprototypical combinations, as supported by other studies (Cadierno, 2000; Camps, 2002; Giacalone-Ramat, 2002).