Experimental Research into the Phases of Acquisition of Korean Tense-Aspect: Focusing on the Progressive Marker “-ko issta”

Jaehoon Yeon, Lucien Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


As part of a larger project into the acquisition of tense-aspect marking in Korean, this paper reports the findings of a piece of experimental research looking into “when” and “how” second language learners of Korean develop use of the progressive marker “ko issta”. The paper sets out to test the claims made by the aspect hypothesis (Shirai 1991, Andersen & Shirai 1996) regarding acquisition of progressive marking; namely that (1) progressive marking is acquired first on activity verbs and later on accomplishment and achievement verbs and that (2) learners do not commit "errors" of using progressive marking with state verbs. However, we acknowledge several problems in applying these claims to Korean: (1) since “-ko issta” can be more easily omitted with activity verbs than with other verb types, it appears questionable that progressive marking is acquired primarily with activity verbs in the case of Korean; (2) in contradiction to claims that learners do not “mis-use” progressive marking with state verbs, Korean “-ko issta” frequently occurs with a category of such verbs (cognitive/emotive) verbs in native speaker talk and (3) Korean verbs of wearing may operate both as accomplishment and as achievement verbs, resulting in dual readings when used with progressive marking. Data was collected through a cloze-style test sat by 40 learners of Korean (20 at elementary level and 20 at advanced level) and retrospective interviews. Analysis of the results can be summarized as follows: (1) contrary to the claims of the aspect hypothesis, progressive marking in L2 Korean occurs first on accomplishment rather than activity verbs, (2) Korean L2 learners acquire progressive marking on cognitive-emotive verbs at a late stage and struggle to fully grasp the meaning even at advanced levels, (3) with verbs of wearing, learners acquire the “accomplishment” reading first and the “achievement” meaning later. We conclude the paper by discussing the implications of this research for Korean language education and by making concrete recommendations as to how teaching of this important point of tense-aspect can be improved.
Original languageKorean
Pages (from-to)151-173
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Korean Language Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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