Second Language Acquisition of the Spanish Verb <em>ESTAR</em> with Adjectives
An Exploration of Contexts of Comparison and Immediate Experience
Daniel S. Woolsey
Unlike English, Spanish uses two verbs to express ‘to be’: ser and estar. Though these verbs are taught early on in instruction, second language learners struggle to acquire the differences between the two verbs, particularly when they are used with adjectives. This struggle is due in part to the fact that not only can the majority of adjectives be used with both ser and estar, but also that specific meanings in the context are highlighted by the use of one verb or the other. For example, estar may be used to highlight a comparison of the referent with itself at another point in time. Thus, el chico está alto ‘the boy is tall’ draws attention to the boy’s present height in comparison with his previous height. Another example is the use of estar to express a reaction to an immediate experience with the referent. Therefore, el chico está alto may also highlight a visual and immediate encounter with the boy.
The purpose of the current study is to investigate the second language acquisition of estar in the two specific pragmatic contexts mentioned above: (1) comparisons of the referent to itself, and (2) visual and immediate experiences with the referent. In order to examine these contexts effectively in learner production data, research instruments were carefully designed to create clear pragmatic contexts and provide ways to confirm speaker intent within ‘copula + adjective’ contexts.
Data for the present study were collected from 111 university Spanish students at four different levels of proficiency. Participants completed a picture description task and a contextualized preference task. Chi-square tests and regression analyses were run for each level to examine the impact ‘comparison’ and ‘immediate experience’ had on the use of estar. Results show that ‘comparison’ is not a predictor of estar at any level of proficiency, while ‘immediate experience’ becomes a predictor at higher levels.
ISBN 9783895865275. LINCOM Studies in Language Acquisition 26. 442pp. 2009.