Be-Insertion in Interlanguage: A Topic Marker, A Tense/Agreement Morpheme, or Both?

Bora Nam 1 ,
Author Information & Copyright
1Indiana University
*Corresponding Author : PhD Candidate, Department of Second Language Studies, Indiana University, 1165 E. Third Street, Bloomington, Indiana, United States, E-mail:

ⓒ Copyright 2019 Language Education Institute, Seoul National University. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Oct 02, 2019 ; Revised: Nov 05, 2019 ; Accepted: Dec 18, 2019

Published Online: Dec 31, 2019


In L2 production, be-forms are often inserted before thematic verbs (e.g., She is study hard). There have been two hypotheses concerning the function of be-forms, that they are topic markers transferred from L1 or tense/agreement morphemes. This study examines the explanatory adequacy of the two hypotheses by comparing acceptability judgments and self-paced listening between Korean and Russian EFL learners. The results support neither hypothesis completely. Contrary to the Topic Marker Hypothesis, both L2 groups accepted be-insertion after non-topic as well as topic subjects. Against the T/AGR Morpheme Hypothesis, participants also accepted be-insertion after topicalized non-subjects. These results suggest that be-forms can have two functions simultaneously, and thus the two hypotheses must not be considered mutually exclusive. The data also call into question the role of L1 transfer, suggesting that the phenomenon may reflect a universal L2 strategy.

Keywords: Be-insertion; interlanguage; topic marker; tense/agreement morpheme; L1 transfer



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