VARIABILITY IN TENSE MARKING: A CASE FOR THE OBVIOUS

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Abstract

The recent focus on the discourse level as the primary basis for explaining alternation in interlanguage tense marking is challenged on the basis of an analysis of tense marking for 16 Vietnamese speakers learning English as a second language. The subjects represent four different age levels (10–12, 15–18, 20–25, and 35–55) and two different length of residency groups (1–3 and 4–7 years). The analysis reveals that there are a number of surface-level constraints that systematically affect the incidence of tense marking, including the distinction between regular and irregular verbs, the shape of the suffix on the regular verb, the following phonological environment, the type of irregular formation, and the relative frequency of the verb form. It is demonstrated that the analysis of tense marking in terms of higher-level language organization must take into account these kinds of surface constraints if it hopes to provide a valid, empirically based account of tense marking alternation in interlanguage.

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