Acquisition of Article Semantics by Child and Adult L1-English Learners

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<p>Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 12 (3), 2009, 337361</p> <p>C</p> <p>2009 Cambridge University Press doi:10.1017/S1366728909990149</p> <p>337</p> <p>Acquisition of article semantics by child and adult L2-English learners</p> <p>TA N I A IO N I NUniversity of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign</p> <p>M A R A LUISA Z UBIZARRETA IUniversity of Southern California</p> <p>VADIM PHILIPPOVOrel State University (Russia)</p> <p>This paper examines article use in the L2-English of adult and child speakers of Russian, an article-less language. In earlier work on articles in adult L2-English, Ionin, Ko and Wexler (2004) proposed that speakers of article-less L1s uctuate between dividing English articles on the basis of deniteness vs. specicity, as a result of direct access to semantic universals. The present paper examines whether similar uctuation is present for child L2-English learners. Results of an elicitation study with L1-Russian child and adult learners of English show that both groups of learners exhibit sensitivity to deniteness as well as specicity. At the same time, it is found that the behavior of child L2-learners is more consistent with natural language data than that of adult L2-learners. It is proposed that both children and adults have domain-specic knowledge of semantic universals, but that adults, unlike children, also use explicit strategies. This proposal is considered in light of the literature on explicit vs. implicit knowledge.</p> <p>A major question in the eld of second language (L2) acquisition concerns whether children and adults acquire a second language in the same way. Traditionally, the focus of much literature on critical periods in L2-acquisition has been on ultimate attainment: whether L2-learners who began acquiring the L2 in childhood (early learners) outperform those who did not begin the acquisition until adulthood (late learners). The general nding has been that early L2-learners tend to outperform late L2-learners on tests of L2-grammar, although researchers disagree as to whether the source of this difference is biological, social, or input-driven, with evidence against critical periods coming from the cases of near-native late L2-learners (see, among many others: Johnson and Newport, 1989, 1991; Lee and Schachter, 1998; DeKeyser, 2000; and the papers in Singleton and Lengyel, 1995, and in Birdsong, 1999; see Herschensohn, 2007, for an overview). More recently, L2-researchers have begun to examine the PROCESSES at work in child vs. adult L2-acquisition (see, for instance, Lazarova-Nikovska, 2005; Unsworth, 2005; Blom and Poliensk , 2006; Song and Schwartz, s a* We would like to thank our undergraduate research assistants, Jomeline Balatayo, Erin Bardales, Anna Bokarius, Erin Kunkle and Matthew Wallace for their help with the data collection and analysis in the U.S., and students at Orel State University for their help with the data collection in Russia. We are grateful to William Rutherford for allowing us the use of his cloze test for measuring L2-learners prociency. The research reported here is supported by NSF grant # BCS-0444088 (Principal Investigator: Mara Luisa Zubizarreta) and by a University of Southern California undergraduate research grant. We are grateful to Silvina Montrul and to three anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of this paper.</p> <p>2009; and the discussion in Schwartz, 1992, 2003, 2004). The focus of these studies has been on whether child L2-learners and adult L2-learners exhibit similar patterns during the course of acquisition. This issue has important implications for the discussion of whether L2-learners have access to Universal Grammar (UG). L2-researchers working in the generative framework generally agree that child L2-learners have access to UG, while there is much more debate concerning whether adults do as well. As laid out by Schwartz (1992, 2003, 2004), similar patterns of development of child and adult L2-learners, with the L1 held constant, provide evidence that adult L2-acquisition, like child L2-acquisition, is UG-constrained. Child/adult parallels have typically been investigated in the domains of syntax (or syntax/semantics interface) and morphology, such as object scrambling (Unsworth, 2005) and inectional morphology (Blom and Poliensk , s a 2006). To our knowledge, there has been no work directly examining the acquisition of ne-grained semantic distinctions by child vs. adult L2-learners. The main goal of the present paper is to add to the existing literature on age effects in L2-acquisition by examining whether child and adult L2-learners exhibit similar patterns in their acquisition of English articles. Article choice is a particularly fruitful area for this investigation, for several reasons. First, articles are notorious for being quite difcult for L2-English learners to master. Second, nearly all investigations of article meaning (as opposed to just article use/omission) in L2acquisition that we are aware of have been done with adult learners (an important exception, discussed below, is Zdorenko and Paradis, 2008), so there is little or no</p> <p>Address for correspondence: Tania Ionin, Department of Linguistics, University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, 4080 Foreign Languages Building, 707 South Mathews Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA</p> <p></p> <p>Downloaded: 15 Sep 2009</p> <p>IP address:</p> <p>338</p> <p>T. Ionin, M. L. Zubizarreta and V Philippov . 1.1 L2-English articles and specicity Many of the early studies on L2-English articles used Bickertons (1981) framework for classifying articles on the basis of the features of SPECIFIC REFERENCE and HEARER KNOWLEDGE. However, these features were not given precise semantic entries. Ionin (2003), adopting existing semantic analyses of deniteness and specicity (see Heim, 1991; Lyons, 1999), proposed that L2English article choice should be viewed in terms of SPECIFICITY AS SPEAKER INTENT TO REFER and DEFINITENESS AS PRESUPPOSITION OF UNIQUENESS. Informal denitions of these semantic features (from Ionin et al., 2004) are given in (1). The formal denition of deniteness adopted in these studies is the Fregean analysis of deniteness, from Heim (1991), while the formal denition of specicity was developed by Ionin (2003, 2006), based on Fodor and Sags (1982) concept of referentiality. (1) If a Determiner Phrase (DP) of the form [D NP] is . . . a. [+denite], then the speaker assumes that the hearer shares the presupposition of the existence of a unique individual in the set denoted by NP. b. [+specic], then the speaker intends to refer to a unique individual in the set denoted by the NP, and considers this individual to possess some noteworthy property. Ionin et al. (2004) proposed that deniteness and specicity are semantic universals which underlie article choice cross-linguistically.1 English and many other western European languages morphologically encode deniteness in their article systems, but not specicity. This is illustrated by the examples in (2), which show that the is used in contexts that are [+denite], as in (2ab), and a in contexts that are [denite], as in (2cd), regardless of whether the context is [+specic] or [specic]. (2) a. [+denite, +specic] context I want to talk to the winner of this race she is a good friend of mine. b. [+denite, specic] context I want to talk to the winner of this race whoever that happens to be. c. [denite, +specic] context Professor Robertson is meeting with a student from her class my best friend Alice.1</p> <p>information of how age might affect acquisition of article semantics. And nally, Ionin, Ko and Wexler (2004) have specically argued that L2-English learners whose L1s lack articles have direct, UG-mediated access to semantic universals underlying article use. This argument for UGinvolvement would receive support if the same patterns were found with child as with adult L2-learners, on the assumption that child L2-learners have access to UG. Building on the Ionin et al. (2004) study, we will compare article (mis)use among adult and child L2-English learners from the same article-less L1 (Russian), and show that there are both similarities and differences between the two age groups. The data reported here are part of a larger study comparing L2-English article use among adult and child speakers of Russian and Spanish (see also Ionin, Zubizarreta and Bautista Maldonado, 2008). On the one hand, we will show that the effects of specicity that Ionin et al. (2004) found in adult L2English article use are also present for child L2-English learners, supporting the view that learners patterns of article (mis)use are UG-related. On the other hand, we will show that the patterns exhibited by child L2-learners are more consistent with natural language data than those exhibited by adult L2-learners. We will propose that while both children and adults have domain-specic linguistic knowledge of deniteness and specicity, adults also make use of explicit strategies, to a greater extent than children. We will discuss the implications of these ndings for the study of article use in child L1, child L2, and adult L2-acquisition, and for explicit and implicit knowledge more generally. This paper is organized as follows. In section 1, we discuss previous ndings with adult L2-English learners, and reconsider the original proposal of Ionin et al. (2004) in light of new cross-linguistic data. Section 2 provides an overview of studies on the acquisition of English articles by young children, and discusses the motivation for doing childadult comparisons. In section 3, we present the methods and results of the present study. Section 4 discusses these ndings and puts forth our proposal. Section 5 concludes the paper with a discussion of how L2-acquisition of articles compares to L1-acquisition of articles. 1. Adult L2-acquisition of English articles The acquisition of English articles by adult L2-learners has been much investigated (see, among many others, Huebner, 1983, 1985; Parrish, 1987; Thomas, 1989; Young, 1996; Murphy, 1997; Robertson, 2000; Trenkic, 2000, 2007, 2008; Leung, 2001; Goad and White, 2004; Ionin et al., 2004, 2008). In this paper, we focus in particular on recent work examining the patterns for article (mis)use in L2-English (as opposed to article omission), and on the reasons behind these patterns.</p> <p>It is important to note that this proposal is concerned exclusively with articles in NON-GENERIC environments. Following Ionin et al. (2004), we do not examine article use in generic contexts (e.g., Lions are dangerous animals, The lion is a dangerous animal, etc.). See Krifka et al. (1995) for an overview of the semantics of genericity, and P rez-Leroux, Munn, Schmitt and DeIrish (2004) on genericity e in rst language acquisition. For recent work on genericity in second language acquisition, see Slabakova (2006) and Ionin and Montrul (2009).</p> <p></p> <p>Downloaded: 15 Sep 2009</p> <p>IP address:</p> <p>Child and adult learners L2-acquisition of articles Table 1. Article grouping cross-linguistically: two-article languages (from Ionin et al. 2004).</p> <p>339</p> <p>d. [denite, specic] context Professor Robertson is meeting with a student from her class I dont know which one. On the other hand, colloquial/spoken English does encode specicity on indenites, with a destressed form of the demonstrative this (see Prince, 1981; Maclaran, 1982; Ionin, 2006). The use of this as a specicity marker on indenites is illustrated in (3). Note that this is interchangeable with a in (3b), supporting the proposal that it marks indenites. At the same time, the distribution of indenite this is more restricted than that of a: while both examples in (3) allow a, only (3b) allows this. Ionin (2006) analyzes such contrasts as follows: the speaker intends to refer to a particular stamp in (3b), where the stamp carries a noteworthy property of being worth a fortune; however, the speaker does not intend to refer to a particular stamp in (3a), where there is nothing noteworthy about the stamp under discussion. As a result, the conditions on specicity, as given in (1b), are met in (3b) but not in (3a). (3) a. He put on a/#this 31 cent stamp on the envelope, so he must want it to go airmail. b. He put on a/ this 31 cent stamp on the envelope, and only realized later that it was worth a fortune because it was unperforated. (Maclaran, 1982, p. 88) While indenite this marks specicity on indenites only, Ionin (2003, 2006) proposed that languages may in principle encode the specicity distinction with both denites and indenites. Drawing on Samoan data from Mosel and Hovdhaugen (1992), Ionin (2003, 2006) suggested that the Samoan articles le and se encode the specicity distinction regardless of deniteness: le is used in both [+denite, +specic] and [denite, +specic] contexts, while se is used in both [+denite, specic] and [denite, specic] contexts. This difference between English and Samoan is represented in Table 1. In a series of studies, Ionin, Ko and Wexler (2003) and Ionin et al. (2004) formulated and tested predictions of how the semantics of specicity is relevant for L2acquisition of English articles by speakers whose L1s lack articles. Ionin et al. proposed that in such cases, UG provides the learners with the options for article semantics</p> <p>Table 2. Patterns of English article use by speakers of article-less L1s: predictions (from Ionin et al. 2004).[+denite]: target the [+specic] [specic] correct use of the overuse of a [denite]: target a overuse of the correct use of a</p> <p>that are available in natural language, including those options that are not instantiated in either the learners L1 or their L2. Ionin et al. hypothesized that in the absence of articles in their L1, L2-English learners would have access to both deniteness and specicity but would not, at least initially, know that English articles encode deniteness rather than specicity. The predicted result would be FLUCTUATION between these two semantic options: some of the time, learners would treat the as marking deniteness (and a indeniteness), and some of the time they would treat the as marking specicity (and a non-specicity) essentially, treating English as if it were Samoan. According to the predictions of this Fluctuation Hypothesis (Ionin et al., 2004), learners should perform accurately on the categories of specic denites and non-specic indenites, where the two options give the same results. When deniteness and specicity are in conict, on the other hand on the categories of specic indenites and non-specic denites learners are predicted to use the and a interchangeably. The four relevant categories are illustrated in (4)(7), with the predictions for L2-article use stated.2 The predicted pattern of article use is schematized in Table 2. Crucially, the pattern in Table 2 is non-random: learners are predicted to make errors in only two out of four different environments. (For mor...</p>


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