How Tense and Aspect are acquired: a cross-linguistic analysis of child Russian and English

  • Maria Filiouchkina Department of Germanic Studies, University of Oslo
Keywords: language acquisition, verb morphology, aspect, tense, Russian language, English language, child language


This study examines the production of verb morphology by children acquiring two typologically different languages – Russian and English. The focus of the study is on the correlation between aspect, tense and Aktionsart in child languages. In many languages, a strong correlation has been observed in the use of the resultative Aktionsart (telic types of verbs: achievements and accomplishments) and the perfective aspect in the past tense, on the one hand, and between the non-resultative Aktionsart (atelic verbs: activities, states and semelfactives) and the imperfective aspect in the present tense, on the other.
To explain these similar acquisition processes across so many different languages, three main hypotheses about language acquisition have been proposed: the Cognition hypothesis (acquisition is based on cognitive constraints), the Semantic Predisposition hypothesis (children are sensitive to only the most frequent or salient associations (prototypes) in the input) and the Language Specificity hypothesis (acquisition is due to children´s productive analyses of the form-function patterns of the target language). This study shows that at the very earliest stage (under the age of two), i.e. when the first finite verbs begin to appear in a child´s production, the acquisition of temporal and aspectual markers is based on the specific morpho-syntactic properties of tense and aspect in Russian and English.