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The Advanced Learner Variety

The Case of French


Edited By Emmannuelle Labeau and Florence Myles

This volume originates from a workshop entitled ‘Revisiting advanced varieties in L2 learning’ organized by the editors at Aston University (Birmingham, UK) in June 2006. It consists of a peer-reviewed selection of the best contributions.
Many different approaches have been used in the study of advanced learners and their characteristics. Specific areas of language have repeatedly been found to remain problematic even at advanced levels, and much empirical research has been carried out. In particular, areas of grammar such as the tense or agreement systems often pose difficulties, as well as lexical idiosyncrasies such as formulaic sequences, and the discourse/pragmatic constraints operating in French. This volume brings together recent research exploring the advanced learner capabilities in each of those domains, as well as possible explanations for the difficulties they raise for the L2 learner of French. Additionally, one of the areas which has received considerable attention in the French L2 literature on advanced learners, tense and aspect, is also explored from the point of view of French learners of English, to explore any parallels. In presenting this research, the book clarifies the concept of the advanced learner: how does s/he differ from native speakers and why?


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Emmanuelle Labeau - An Imperfect Mastery: The Acquisition of the Functions of Imparfait by Anglophone Learners 63


emmanuelle labeau An Imperfect Mastery: The Acquisition of the Functions of Imparfait by Anglophone Learners Introduction Recent studies of aspectual development in French (Bergström 1995, Kihlstedt 1998, Salaberry 1998, Howard 2005, Labeau 2005a) agree on the fact that the imparfait (IMP) is acquired later than its perfective counter- part and proves problematic for learners, especially if their native language does not belong to the Romance family, as is the case for Anglophone learners. The difficulty originates in the different ways in which English and French express grammatical aspect. According to Smith (1997: 73), the most common imperfectives in world languages are the general imper- fective and the progressive; while the former applies to all types of verbs (but only in the past), the latter appears in past, present or future but it is restricted to non-statives. French has recourse to general imperfec- tive, English to the second type1 and conveys uses that are expressed in French through an IMP by (a) the preterit, (b) the progressive or (c) periphrases: 1) Il avait 25 ans = He was 25. 2) Marie lisait = Marie was reading. 3) Il sortait (à 10 heures) = he used to go out (at 10 o’clock). In English, the main aspectual contrast appears between the pro- gressive, expressed by the past progressive (e.g. he was eating), and the perfective conveyed by the simple past (e.g. he ate). In French however, 1 A resultative also exists in English: Marie was sitting on the floor. 64 emmanuelle labeau the most important...

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