International Journal of Applied Linguistics

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Volume 8 Issue 1 (June 1998), Pages 3-159

Are English and Malay worlds apart? Typological distance and the learning of tense and aspect concepts (pages 27-60)

The research discussed in this paper, carried out at the University of Brunei Darussalam, investigates tense, modality and aspect in the English of adult Malay speakers. We first contrast tense and aspect (TA) in Malay and English in order to arrive at a specification of what Malayspeakers have to learn about English TA. We then examine the use of TA in two English conversations with Malay‐speaking subjects and compare this with a native speaker conversation. The non‐native subjects seem to avoid past time contexts and prefer simple aspect to a greater extent than native speakers. Whether deviations from Standard (British) English (STE) should be considered ‘errors’ or features of a local non‐standard variety is discussed. On the basis of introspective data, it is concluded that the subjects' target variety was STE and that deviations are therefore errors. The possible role of L1 transfer is then explored with reference to Schachter's (1992) view that the learner's previous knowledge imposes constraints on the hypotheses the learner may form about the target language. It is argued that a tenseless L1 is highly likely to have a major influence on the frequency and persistence of TA errors in English.

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