Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Research Article

L2 effects on L1 event conceptualization*


a1 Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University

a2 Department of Linguistics, Ohio University


The finding that speakers of aspect languages encode event endpoints to a lesser extent than do speakers of non-aspect languages has led to the hypothesis that there is a relationship between grammatical aspect and event conceptualization (e.g., von Stutterheim and Nüse, 2003). The present study concerns L1 event conceptualization in 40 L1 Spanish – L2 Swedish bilinguals (all near-native speakers of Swedish). Spanish and Swedish differ as regards grammatical aspect: whereas Swedish lacks this grammatical category, Spanish conveys aspect through verbal morphology and periphrasis. The principal aim of the study was to explore the relationship between productive event conceptualization patterns and receptive decoding proficiency related to aspectual contrasts. The participants were asked to provide oral L1 Spanish descriptions of video clips projecting motion events with different degrees of endpoint orientation (see von Stutterheim, 2003). In addition, they took a grammaticality judgment test concerning verb and gender agreement, verbal clitics and aspectual contrasts. Compared with baseline data from monolingual Spanish speakers, the results on endpoint encoding show that the bilinguals mention the endpoints of motion events to a higher degree than the Spanish control group does. Moreover, it was shown that the weaker the bilinguals' discrimination of aspectual errors on the grammaticality judgment test, the more prone they were to encoding endpoints. This result consequently furthers the hypothesis about the interconnectedness between grammatical aspect and event conceptualization. The results were further interpreted as indicating that the bilinguals are influenced by the Swedish-like tendency to attend to the boundedness rather than the ongoingness of events.

(Received September 29 2008)

(Revised September 21 2009)

(Accepted October 06 2009)

(Online publication July 29 2010)


c1 Address for correspondence: Emanuel Bylund, Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University, SE – 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden


* The data presented in the current study were collected through the support of the Swedish Graduate School in Romance Languages (FoRom), the Swedish Research Council (grant no. 421-2004-1975, project: “First Language Attrition in Advanced Second Language Speakers”; N. Abrahamsson, K. Hyltenstam, E. Bylund and K. Stölten) and the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (Project: “Verbal Interaction Studies in Santiago and Stockholm”; L. Fant and A. Harvey). A preliminary version of this paper was presented by the authors at the 6th International Symposium on Bilingualism, Hamburg, June 1 2007. The authors wish to thank Panos Athanasopoulos, Monique Flecken and Christiane von Stutterheim for comments on an earlier version of this paper; Christiane von Stutterheim, Barbara Schmiedtová and Mary Carroll for sharing their video clips; Alejandra Donoso for lending her voice and Katrin Stölten and the staff at the phonetics laboratory at Stockholm University for their help in recording the grammaticality judgment sentences; Alejandra Donoso and Carlos Henderson for their constructive comments on previous versions of the grammaticality judgment test. Needless to say, none of these people can be held responsible for any remaining errors or inconsistencies, or for the interpretation of the results.