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Running head: VERBAL INFLECTION

A Comparative Research on the Verbal Inflection of English and Spanish


Juan C. Sols Rivera, Russell Daz Perera, and Angel Avila Prez
Grammatical Analysis of the English Language
Universidad Autnoma de Yucatn, Mrida, Yucatn

Running head: VERBAL INFLECTION

May 8th 2015

VERBAL INFLECTION

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Index

Abstract

Introduction
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Literature
review..
Background
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Comparison
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Relevance in ELT and
EFL..
Conclusions
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References

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Abstract

The following paper is an overview and comparison of a specific grammatical aspect of


two different languages: English and Spanish. We discuss the subject on verbal
inflection. Firstly, we bring to light the definition of such a term. Secondly, we
summarize the evolution of verbs and their characteristics in each language to provide
some context. Thirdly, we address the current features of the said point in both
languages so as to compare them and identify their differencesand similarities.
Finally, we make an analysis of these morphological and syntactic similarities and
differences, through which it is explained how these differences interfere in Spanish
speaking students in the acquisition of English as a second language.
Key words: Spanish, English, grammar, verbs, inflection, evolution, comparison,
SLA, and EFL.

VERBAL INFLECTION

A Comparative Research on the Verbal Inflection of English and Spanish


We decided to address this issue on verbal inflection because we think it is an
important general aspect of language that is not always thoroghly examined in the
literaturenor discussed in a comparative mannerbut usually mentioned in isolation.
Moreover, the result of the conducted research provides relevant information on the
differences and similarities of two different languages, which in turn can eventually help
EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students to better comprehend this grammatical
point.
English and Spanish have already been compared through the years due to their
close geographical proximity and social relevance (e.g. Latinamerican migration to the
United States and, to a lesser extent, Canada). Plus, they belong to the same family of
languages: the Indo-European, which may make one imply that these two languages
share several characteristicswhich they do, but due to the diversification and
evolution of the peoples who spoke them at their earlier stages, the gap between both
has increased thus making room for more differences to appear.
This paper is not among the very first on the matterin a general sense, but it
is in that it focuses on a particular grammar aspect that is present in both languages. An
important aspect that is worth the mention is that in past years most papers, studies, and
works on the subject have leaned towards a more holistic approach concerning the
comparison of both languages. However, hitherto we have not found any that has
actually addressed this inflectional aspect of verbs in a constrastive manner. For this
reason, we offer an in-detail description of the verbal inflection aspect that allows us to
compare both languages and determine their differences and similarities.
In order to write this paper we first had to resort to the literature on the grammar
of English and Spanish from a general scope to a narrower one. To that end, we started

VERBAL INFLECTION

from the origins and evolution of these languageswith regard to verbal inflectionto
their present-day features so as to have the necessary information to be able to carry out
a proper and meaningful comparison of the grammar point of our choice. As a result,
this paper is an exhaustive review of the literature, instead of a study comprising actual
experiments or hypotheses to be tested, which brings light upon the sharedand not
sharedfeatures of verbal inflection.
Literature Review
According to Loos et al. (2004), inflection is variation in the form of a word,
typically by means of an affix, that expresses a grammatical contrast which is obligatory
for the stems word class in some given grammatical context. With this in mind, it is
not to be confused with derivation for inflection does not result in a change of word
class, and usually produces a predictable, nonidiosyncratic change of meaning (Loos et
al., 2004). Inflection can be subdivided in two major groups depending on the words
where it takes place. When it occurs in nouns, adjectives, and pronouns, it is called
declension. However, when it happens to verbs, it is called conjugationwhich is the
one to be addressed in this paper. Having said that, conjugation is the class of verbs
which follow the same pattern for changes in tense, person, or number (Richards &
Schmidt, 2010, p. 116). What is more, verbs do not only have the aforesaid
characteristics when inflecting, but, in addition, they also reflect aspect, voice, modality,
negation, and mood which altogether are known as the eight major kinds of variation in
the structure of verb phrases (Richards, 2010).
As stated above, verbs will have a morphological change, i.e. they will change in
form by adding suffixes or even modifying their root. Nonetheless, a couple of
questions arise concerning this changes. Firstly, has it always been like that? That is
to say, has inflection always been as we know it? And, secondly, how has it changed

VERBAL INFLECTION

through the years and the evolution of langauges themselves? The answers to these
questions are to be given in the following section.
Background
English
English has much changed since its very beginnings. It has had different stages
in its evolution. The first relevantand eldeststage we can refer to is Old English
(OE). OE arrvied to the British Iles with invasions of the Germanic tribes from
continental Europe around 449 a.d. The language quickly settled there thanks to the
military prowess that these peoples showed in comparison to that of the locals. An
important feature of OE is that it was much more inflected than its current formwhat
we know as Modern English. In other words, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, determiners
and verbs had more morphological changes and transformations showing different
grammatical aspects (tense, number, gender, function, aspect, etc.) that the ones we are
able to identify at the present. As Crystal (2003) states, this inflection means that the
job a word did in the sentence was signalled by the kind of ending it had (p. 20).
Among the differences are that OE verbs were marked by different suffixes to
agree with their subjecteither in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person, and singular or plural number
(Freeborn, 1998). Crystal (2003) mentions a classification of three types of MnE verbs
that can be traced back to OE: 1) Those forming their past tense by adding ed; 2)
Those forming their past tense by changing a vowel in the root form of the present tense
(also known as strong verbs); and 3) Wholly irregular forms, such as can, will, and be.
So present day regular and irregular verbs come from this greater division of OE verbs
into weak and strong verbs appropriately (Baugh & Cable, 2002). For instance the verb
lufian, which means love, would have been conjugated in the following form: ic lufie
(I love), lufast (you love), h/h/hit lufa (he/she/it loves), w/g/h lufia

VERBAL INFLECTION

(we/you/they love), whereas in Modern English (MnE) the only present tense marker is
the suffix s for the third person singular. Coupled with this features, there is yet
another feature of OE regarding this inflection: past simple regular verbs did not only
have a single suffix (-ed as in MnE) for all the persons. Though it did show a clear
paradigm for these regular or weak verbs, keeping in mind that irregular verbs would
also see their root changing besides just adding the corresponding suffixes. The
aforementioned verb example would be as the following in the past tense in OE: ic
lufode (I loved), lufodest (you loved), h/h/hit lufode (he/she/it loved), w/g/h
lufodon (we/you/they loved). Another key point to remember is that it is not only the
conjugation that shows differences but also the non-finite verbs forms such as the
infinitive which used to show an ending that could identify it as such (akin to Spanish).
Such an ending would be either an or ian (Crystal, 2003). Plus, there were also
differences among the present, past, and participle forms (e.g. drfan (drive), drf,
drifon, (ge)drifen). So, in brief
Old English distinguished only two simple tenses by inflection, a present and a
past, and, except for one word, it had no inflectional forms for the passive It
recognized the indicative, subjunctive, and imperative moods and had the usual
two numbers and three persons. (Baugh & Cable, 2002, p. 60)
The next period in the English language is Middle English (ME). During this
period, there was a number of changes with regard to verbs and their inflection. Firstly,
almost a third of the strong verbs in OE seem to have died out, thus giving room to a
steadily growing body of weak verbs (Baugh & Cable, 2002). In other words, more than
a hundred of the OE strong verbs were lost at the beginning of the ME period, and for
some other surviving strong verbs the situation was different since they became weak

VERBAL INFLECTION

verbs. Though this was not the case with participles who seemed to have been more
tenacious than the past tense.
Regarding verb endings, these remained close to those of OE with only
noticeable changes in spelling. Moreover, it was during the ME period that the
inflectional ending (i)an of the infinitive in OE began to decay, and was then
supplanted by the particle to, which was originally a preposition, but developed a
function as a purpose marker (in order to) thus losing all of its semantic content, acting
solely as a sign of the infinitive (Crystal, 2003). Another important feature during this
period is the emergence of several important constructions such as the progessive form,
in which the verb to be was used as an auxiliary. Since there is no more relevant shifts
in this period concerning verbs, we are moving onto the next period.
Early Modern English (EME), which started sometime inbetween the XIV and
XV centuries. The most relevant changes concerning verbs were: 1) the lost of
importance of the second person singular suffix est as the pronoun thou was also
delcining, thus giving rise to only one inflected form in the present tensethat of the
third person singular; 2) The third personal singular present tense suffix eth was
replaced by the form (e)soriginally from the Northern dialect; 3) The weak past
tense, which had started back in the times of the ME period, has now fossilized and thus
given way to a standarization of the usage of the suffix ed to mark the past tense.
Therefore, by the end of this period, English had already adopted a form similar to that
of the present. We then move on to this stage.
Modern English (MnE) is the last stage in the English language history. It starts
roughly around the XVIII century. Verbs are mostly conjugated as we currently know
them. There is no more thou pronoun nor its inflectional suffix; the third person singular
has already adopted the inflectional suffix (e)s, past tense regular verbs are formed by

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adding ed, and so forth. Notwithstanding these similarities, there were still some
nunaces respecting the usage of verbs. Crystal (2003) points at the writing style of Jane
Austenwhose cenit was during the 18th century. He indicates how there were certain
differences in tense usage, auxiliary verbs, irregular verbs, among others. That is to say,
that even though Modern English, at its earlier stage, had already adopted and
standarized the morphological features we are used to employ nowadays, it still had
certain differences with regard to the usage of such. Nevertheless, we can know start
considering thisfrom a morphological point of viewas the final stage in English
verbal inflection evolution.
Spanish
Spanish is a language that is related to a certain extent to English due to their
shared ancestrythe Proto-Indoeuropean language. Nonetheless, the story of both is
quite different as neither of them underwent the same conditions and situations
concerning social evolution, which has significant importance in the development of a
language. The Iberian Peninsula was formerly occupied by the Celts, the Basque, the
Iberians, the Tartesians, Phoenicias, Greek and finally Carthaginians. Each ethnic group
with their own language and dialects. From the III century B.C. up to the I century A.D.,
the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula. Vulgar Latin was the langauge of those
who there settled, e.g. soliders, merchants, workers, etc. The native peoples saw in this
an opportunity, as they learned the language with the aim to gain social status and be as
accepted as their invaders were. This form of language, which was far from the cultural
centre of Rome together with the origin of the Roman conquerors (southern Italy), made
the language to develop in a special sort of way. It is important to bear in mind that
Latineven vulgar Latinhad an extensive inflectional system for both nouns and
verbs. Hence its classification as a highly synthetic language. In general terms, one can

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easily notice that there is a close relationship between the current inflectional forms of
Spanish and those of Latin. The verb to love would be conjugated in both languages in
the following fashion: 1) Latin; am, ams, amat, ammus, amatis, amant; 2) Spanish;
amo, amas, ama, amamos, aman. There are only slight differences, which result
unimportant if we consider the time it has been since the establishement of Latin and the
evolution into present-day Spanish. The first stage in the Spanish language history
would be Medieval Spanish, from around the X century A.D. The first inflectional
changes in verbs occur during this period. The first person plural changed its Latin
suffix amus to amos (only a vowel shift); the second person plural changed its suffix
from tis to ades (consonant shift), and finally, the third person plural changed the
final t of the suffix ant resulting in just an. In other words, Spanish verbal inflection
has not changed as much as that of English. Having this in mind, we can see how
Spanish retained the categories of person and number as well as mood, tense, aspect,
and voice (Pharies, 2010). However, there are still some differences regarding the
expression of certain verbal categories. Let us say that in for this context, Latin still
remained more synthetical, whilst Spanish became more analytical (requiring more than
one word to express the same as in Latin). Finally, the appearance of perfect tenses
through the usage of analytical forms (e.g. the auxiliary verb haber) was possible in
Spanish whereas in Latin it was not (Pharies, 2010).
Comparison
Taking into consideration the evolution of Spanish language along the years, we
can say that verb inflection has its own general characteristics. These modalities cannot
be limited in one category as they also involve several other forms and structures
regarding this matter. Considering the problematic of linguistic changes of language, it
is very important to study them in deep so as to establish a close relationship between

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one language to another. Coming from syntax and morphology to forms and aspects
regarding verbs in both Spanish and English.
According to Ralph Penny (2006) this morphological evolution addresses both
an analytical and syntactical verbal expression which constitutes a number of related
changes that are inexistent in the English language, for instance, the adverbial stress. It
is known that Spanish stress is determined from the ancient Latin rules which have been
very stable along the centuries. When inflecting verbs, we face the problem of adding a
diacritic mark to certain vowels according to the grammar rules, and the English
language simply does not conceive this feature. Another point that Ralph Penny (2006)
addresses is the voice, which certainly involves the verb itselfthe active and the
passive voice that features in both Spanish and English. Then, person and number play a
central role in the development of the Spanish language. The explanation given by
Ralph Penny (2006) establishes that Latin verbs which is the root language of
Spanishthat expresses the grammatical person cannot be unlinked from the ones that
expresses number; the same morphemes expresses both categories.
It has been mentioned two main sources of language constitution. However,
those mentioned above are followed by another complementary feature: the aspect.
Ralph Penny (2006) says that an aspect is a verbal category which forms allow to
distinguish among a diversity modalities of perceiving the organization of an action or a
situation in a period of time; that is the way it is expressed different structures of actions
and situations. This verbal category allows us to make a distinction between perfect,
imperfect, progressive and nonprogressive aspects. This modality gives speakers such a
tool to organize and assimilate the time in which the language is being produced. For
instance, if we take English and Spanish languages and analyze them in these terms,
both are seen to have their certain aspect: a) perfect aspect, situation that is

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momentaneous, beginning and end are simultaneous. The situation can also be linked to
a previous reference point situated at the moment of speaking; b) imperfect aspect, this
situation can be seen as finished but it has a place in which the speaker does not
consider it yet concluded; and c) progressive aspect: The speaker decides insisting about
the development of the stated situation, even among temporal limits.
What it is mentioned above constitute a relevant aspect for both Spanish and
English language given that they share the same necessary characteristic for the
language to develop communication with the basis of morphology and syntax.
We as Spanish speakers, and coming in the future English teachers, little do we
think about main features that are commonly present in our daily-life language
performance; time and manner are a fact that has been seen, from different perspectives,
as the language core. When we talk about Spanish time and mode; we can enlist a huge
amount of modalities that affect directly to verbs inflection. As in English language,
these features addresses also what is the basis of languages: the tense.
As the Londons Global University (n/d) states: tense refers to the absolute
location of an event or action in time, either the present or the past. It is marked by an
inflection of the verb. These inflections expresses also the future but here we face a
problematic: English has been seen as a language that does not have a future aspect
itself; the formation of this tense is made by auxiliaries called modal verbs which are
the protagonists for some other modalities of the language. Taking this into
consideration, we can devise two main concepts: aspect and tensethe first one
addresses an event or action seen according to time, and the other which refers to the
actual location in time. Fortunately, we know that English and Spanish share these
two concepts in their grammatical structures, but, what else does the existance of verbal
inflection involve? Ralph Penny (2006) mentions one more feature: the mood. There is

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a significant contrast between the main two moods of Spanish: the subjunctive and
indicative. These two allow speakers to give values of veracity to propositions
restrained in sentences. Although they have been used automatically, Spanish offers the
possibility of changing the meaning of a sentence substituting one mode for another,
from indicative to subjunctive and vice versa. In the English language the subjunctive
mood is not as noticebalemorphologically speakingas in Spanish. In fact, the form
of the past tense is used to form the so called subjuncitve mood in the language, of
which the most widespread use is with the verb to be when expressing hypothetical
situations (expressing desires according to language functions). Thus we have a major
difference with regard to the usage and relevance of moods in the language.
Almost every language is highly standardizedincluding Spanish and
English, and, regarding verbal inflection, such has been seen as a linear evolution that
involved different eventsto a greater or lesser extend, depending on the languagein
which the latter has suffered adaptations according to its mise en place.
Relevance in ELT and EFL
As we know, in language teaching there is a pehenomenon called interference.
Such phenomenon consists in the negative effects produced of the trasnference of
certain features of the learners L1 into the L2 experience. Thus the learner might
struggle with their already established mindset concerning the grammatical,
phonological, and pragmatical features of their L1 when attempting to comprehend and
grasp those of the L2. This is also the case for verbal inflection. As it has been stated
above, English and Spanish are quite different when it comes to the conjugation of their
verbs. English needsmost of the timethe pronoun, there are no other inflectional
suffixes rather than those for the third person singular in the present tense, the ending
for the past tense for all the persons, and the non-finite forms such as the gerund.

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Additionally, English only has a distinction between regular and irregular verbs in
accordance with the past tense. On the other hand, in Spanish ellipsis of pronouns can
occur (i.e. not mentioning them at all) due to the clear verbal inflection that denotes the
necessary features to uderstand the concept. Plus, the body of irregular verbs is quite
extense and spread along the tenses. That is to say, that Spanish does not only
distinguish from regular and irregular verbs in accordance to one tense but to many, as
the paradigms of conjugation can change from tense to tense, or even mood.
Hence the importance as English teachers to understand both the external and
underlying characteristics of verbal inflection in both languages. This is how we can
address issues and solve problems concerning the needs of our students who might be
suffering during the learning experience thanks to the difficulties that a phenomenon
such as interference can originate. Several grammar workbooks, and grammar reference
book can provide light to the matter, so that the learner can truly understand the
mechanics of language and thus ceases to try to accomodate the features of the L2 into
those of their native tongue. For this reason, the relevance of the topic is high, as verbs
are one of the core elemnts of the language corpus and is as important as other lexical
categories which help us build language. One positive aspect of these differences is that
the learner can have an opporutinity to change their mindsetand schematawhich
can later help them understand other languages that share the same inflectional features
(e.g. Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Chinese, etc.). What is more, in personal terms, we
do think that the conjugation of verbs in Spanish is far more complicated than that of
English. Thus, by keeping this important key in mind, we can assertalso through the
experience of one of us in language teachingthat Spanish speaking students do not
usually struggle a lot when learning English verbs. They do have some issues when
learning the irregular forms as these do not follow any visible morphological rulesat

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least not in the surface, but they do not have to spend as much as time as their
counterpart (English speaking students) when learning Spanish verbs, of which their
paradigms are far more complicated in that the number of such is greater.
Conclusions
Thanks to the historical overview of both langauges, we have now better
understood why Spanish and English have such features concerning their verbs and
their conjugation. The evolution of language has brought light upon this; these changes
took place because of several sociolinguistic cirscumstances, and despite the ancestry
the two of them share, it still a significant gap the one that lays between both of them.
One is to bear in mind that we only addressed a particular topic to be contrasted in both
languages. Although such is not unrelated to any others that were not included in this
paper for academical purposes. Notwithstanding that, we were able to compare both
langauges by taking into consideration their current morphological features as a product
of linguistic and sociological evolution. Knowing the rational behind all this
transformations as well as the concepts here dealt, trully helped us have a better insight
on how to distinguish one another with regard to verbal inflection. We are certain that
this will become handy during our professional practice in that we will be better able to
provide logical and accurate explanations on why verbal paradgims behave so
differently in both langauges. Moreover, we will also be better able to understand what
learnings are going through (interference issues) when being introduced to English
verbs for the first time as well as the further practice on them.

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References

Baugh, A. C. & Cable, T. (2002). A History of the English Language (5th ed.). USA:
Prentice Hall.
Biber, D., Conrad, S., & Leech, G. (2002). Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and
Written English. England: Pearson Longman.
Crystal, D. (2003). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (2nd ed.).
UK: Cambridge University Press.
Freeborn, D. (1998). From Old English to Standard English: A Course Book in
Language Variation across Time (2nd ed.). Great Britain: Macmillan Press LTD.
Loos, E. E., Anderson, S., Day, D. H. Jr., Jordan, P. C., and Wingate, J. D. (2004).
Glossary of Linguistic Terms. Retrieved from http://www01.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsInflection.htm
Pharies, D. (2010). History of the Spanish Language. Retrieved from
http://users.clas.ufl.edu/pharies/knol.html
Richards, J. C. & Schmidt, R. (2010). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and
Applied Linguistics (4th ed.). Great Britain: Pearson.

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