Verb Frequency Effects and Mood Preference: Implications for the L2 Teaching and Learning of Negated Matrix Verbs of Belief

Open Access
Scaltz, Tracy Cramer
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 04, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Paola Eulalia Dussias, Dissertation Advisor
  • Paola Eulalia Dussias, Committee Chair
  • Rena Torres Cacoullos, Committee Member
  • Carrie Neal Jackson, Committee Member
  • Karen Lynn Miller, Committee Member
  • Maria Rosa Truglio, Committee Member
  • verb frequency
  • mood preference
  • socio-pragmatic intention
  • pedagogy
  • subjunctive/indicative
  • negated matrix verbs of belief
This dissertation examines subtle distinctions of selection between the subjunctive and indicative moods in complement clauses appearing with negated matrix verbs of belief in Spanish. Motivated by the disparity between how native speakers select mood and the stringent prescriptive rules that appear in second language textbooks, I investigate whether three groups of proficient English-Spanish speakers adhere to prescriptive notions, and thereby reject indicative complement clauses when negated verbs of belief are used in the matrix clause, or whether the acceptance of indicative complements is modulated by the frequency with which matrix verbs surface with the indicative mood in subordinate clauses in natural language input. In Experiment 1, the grammaticality judgments of 60 monolingual Spanish speakers from Granada, Spain, 20 monolingual Spanish speakers from Bogotá, Colombia, 20 Spanish-English secondary students from Valladolid, Spain, 24 English-Spanish teachers of Spanish, 24 English-Spanish non-teachers and 16 English-Spanish now-teachers are analyzed for seven negated matrix verbs of belief. The now-teachers originally pertained to the group of non-teachers and were tested twice: once prior to having any teaching experience, and a second time after having taught for three years. The grammaticality judgments concern whether a subordinate clause that appears after a negated verb of belief in the matrix clause allows an indicative complement, ‘Ella no cree que su novio es guapo’ (She doesn’t believe that her boyfriend is handsome), in addition to the widely accepted subjunctive complement, ‘Ella no cree que su novio sea guapo’ (She doesn’t believe that her boyfriend is handsome). The results show that the three groups of L1 Spanish speakers judge indicative complements to be acceptable in contexts where the subjunctive mood is normally required by prescriptive grammar rules. Although still not approximating native speaker use, the 24 English-Spanish bilinguals consider indicative complements to be acceptable for all seven verbs prior to becoming teachers; however, after having taught Spanish for three years, these participants judge indicative complements to be marginally acceptable only for the three most frequent, negated matrix verbs of belief that appear in written and spoken Spanish, based on the Davies 100-million word corpus, similar to the English-Spanish teachers. This suggests that, in cases of highly frequent verbs, L2 Spanish teachers are able to use statistical verb information to override the influence of prescriptive rules on grammaticality judgments. A second experiment is conducted using computer-mediated communication to create an authentic, input-rich environment in which the 20 Spanish-English secondary students from Valladolid participate in a synchronous, text-based chat session with 23 intermediate-level, L2 Spanish, U.S secondary students beginning their study of the Spanish subjunctive. The quantitative findings from Experiment 2 are compared to the results from Experiment 1 to assess whether L1 Spanish speakers demonstrate similar patterns of mood selection across both the grammaticality judgment task and the text-based chat. If so, this would lend support for an exemplar-based model of lexical representation in language learning based on verb frequency information and identifiable patterns of socio-pragmatic intention via real experiences with natural language. Are these patterns robust enough to propose a particular [negated matrix verb of belief] + que + [indicative or subjunctive complement] pattern to facilitate L2 learning? The qualitative results are discussed in terms of L2 Spanish learners’ reactions to a follow-up analysis task based on their chat experiences with native speakers. L2 Spanish learners report literacy and cultural benefits, increased confidence in language abilities and the capacity to discern how the prescriptive grammar rules of mood selection found in L2 textbooks differ from real native speaker use as evinced in the chat. Thus, the quantitative L1 Spanish results from Experiments 1 and 2 indicate that each of the seven negated matrix verbs of belief has a replicable acceptability rating and a clear mood preference, regardless of task. The qualitative results from Experiment 2 suggest that using electronic media in the L2 classroom, such as computer-mediated communication using synchronous text-based chat, has linguistic and cultural benefits that extend beyond what the traditional L2 classroom offers. Ideally, L2 Spanish learners’ curriculum allows for the participation in native speaker-non-native speaker natural language interactions using electronic media supplemented by the use of revised and updated L2 instructional materials. Informed by the empirical findings from both experiments, one such L2 Spanish pedagogical and curricular improvement is thereby proposed. The new paradigm includes an updated treatment of mood selection to appear in L2 textbooks in which the seven negated matrix verbs are organized into four, distinct categories based on verb frequency information and three classifications based on the native speakers’ preferential, socio-pragmatic intentions that emerged from the data. Taken together, the implications of this research are discussed in terms of how linguistically informed studies can assist pedagogues in the creation of natural language-rich classroom opportunities and updated L2 instructional materials to reflect the ways in which native speakers select mood in the complement clause with negated matrix verbs of belief in Spanish. Taking a natural language, data-driven approach to language learning is arguably one of the most effective ways to promote L2 development of Spanish mood in U.S secondary schools. This dissertation is one of the first to demonstrate, via quantitative and qualitative measures, the necessity of providing language teachers and L2 Spanish learners with grammatical explanations informed by natural language corpora and linguistic research. Future investigations must extend this line of reasoning to other contrastive, L2 grammatical structures.