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Auteur: Jose AMENOS-PONS

Co-Auteur(s): Aoife AHERN, Universidad Complutense, Madrid, Spain

Inferential processes in an L2: Indicative and subjunctive mood interpretation in Spanish language learners

Abstract/Résumé: A starting point for this study consists in a perspective on the interaction of syntax, semantics and pragmatics that has been developed based on the relevance theoretical notion of procedural meaning (Blakemore, 1987; Wilson & Sperber, 1992). The procedural meaning denoted in linguistic units such as determiners, certain discourse connectives, tenses, etc., guides the hearer towards, or makes more accessible, certain assumptions during the inferential processes of utterance interpretation; this kind of meaning, for most speakers, is not amenable to formulation in conceptual terms, although for purposes of analysis, linguists or language instructors often find ways to paraphrase or give a rough approximation of it. Our hypothesis is that, even at advanced stages of L2 acquisition, procedural expressions are among the most problematic areas for learners. Verbal mood, as a functional category, encodes procedural meaning: its semantics enable the hearer to infer information about the speaker’s attitude, intentions and mental states. For native speakers, such inferences are developed in an instantaneous, automatic and, normally, unconscious manner. By contrast, for the L2 learner, the information that can be identified based on the presence of the verbal mood of a clause is often opaque unless other explicit cues which are not purely procedural facilitate its interpretation. In support of this hypothesis we provide original data from an utterance interpretation task in which indicative and subjunctive moods alternate in conditional and concessive clauses. The interpretation task, presented in the form of a written questionnaire (30 multiple choice items) has been carried out by different groups of adult learners of Spanish as a foreign language: L1 French and L1 English, at CEFR B2 and C1 levels of Spanish. A control group of native Spanish speakers has also been used. In the questionnaire, the construction of an appropriate interpretation (assertive, non-assertive, quotative or irrealis) requires the recognition of linguistic cues provided by grammatical means (especially, mood and tense); even at advanced levels of L2, learners have much greater difficulties than native speakers. Thus, utterances whose interpretation depends mainly on procedurally encoded information are generally problematic, but combining procedural information and non-linguistic cues in order to buid a contextually appropiate interpretation is even more demanding. Furthermore, the ability to efficiently integrate linguistic (especially, procedural) and non-linguistic cues is one of the key differences found between native and non-native speakers.