Article published in:Tense-Aspect-Modality in a Second Language: Contemporary perspectives
Edited by Martin Howard and Pascale Leclercq
[Studies in Bilingualism 50] 2017
► pp. 213–252
Using the present tense to talk about irreality
Differences and similarities across the L2 grammars of Italian learners of French
Counterfactuality is a semantic subdomain of irreality (Pietrandrea 2010) which results from the comparison of reality to an imagined view of what might have been (Kahneman & Tversky 1982). Previous studies have shown that simple clauses containing the conditional tense are frequently used by native speakers of French to express irreality (Hellberg 1971; Repiso 2013). This use corresponds to the grammatical description of the conditional tense, which is said to mark the posteriority of a process whose realization is deferred to certain hypothetical conditions (Charaudeau 1992). In contrast to the conditional, this study explores the use of the present indicative which our learners predominantly used in the semantic domain of counterfactuality. A heterogeneous group of 23 Italian learners of French completed a mutation task and a predictive task. Their responses were transcribed and analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. At a general level, indicative tenses other than the conditional were significantly overused in the corpus as a whole. This type of response was usually structured by coordinated clauses, similar to linear narrations. However, behind this general pattern, we found three sets of grammatical regularities which allowed us to distinguish the learners: a) an overuse by some learners of bare present forms as well as the periphrastic future form ‘Aller (to go) + Infinitive’; b) a broader repertoire characterizing other learners who combine the present or the imparfait (imperfective) and some forms of the conditional; and c) a dominant use among some learners of the conditional over other indicative tenses. Our results suggest that the present tense is frequently used by Italian learners in the construction of counterfactual scenarios. This may be explained because of (i) a stylistic preference in the case of those learners able to align their productions to the native pattern and (ii) the under-developed grammars of those learners who do not use conditional forms.
Published online: 15 February 2017
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