Morphophonological or Syntactic Transfer in the Acquisition of English Articles by L1 Speakers of Syrian Arabic?
206-217 (complete paper
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English Articles have always been one of the difficult areas of acquisition for some groups of L2 learners. Recent studies of speakers of L1s that lack articles (e.g., Russian, Korean) have shown that in development informants fluctuate between treating the/a as markers of (in)definiteness and (non-)specificity. By contrast, studies of L1 speakers of languages where articles mark definiteness (e.g., Spanish, Greek) show that learners of English do not fluctuate. The present study reports on the acquisition of English articles in a new population -- L1 Syrian Arabic (henceforth SA) speakers -- and L1 French speakers. Like most spoken varieties of Arabic, SA has a phonologically overt form al that marks definiteness, but no overt form of indefinite. Bare NPs are interpreted freely as either indefinite specific or indefinite non-specific. In contrast, French like English has a marker of (in)definiteness. The initial prediction is that SA speakers acquiring English will fluctuate between use of the and a/Ø when dealing with indefinite specific NPs, as speakers of Russian/Korean do as L1 transfer effects occur at the level of morphophonology; this will not be observed in the case of the L1 French speakers of English. Results from a study of SA and French speakers of English, ranging in proficiency, show apparent fluctuation for the L1 Syrian Arabic speakers between the and a/Ø in specific indefinite contexts, but not in non-specific indefinite contexts, consistent with transfer at the level of morphophonology. However, closer examination of the results shows that overgeneralization of the occurs specifically in contexts where NPs are post-modified by relative clauses. As such cases uniformly require a definite article in SA (in contrast to English), the conclusion drawn is that transfer is at the level of syntax and not morphophonology.
Proceedings of the 9th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2007)
edited by Roumyana Slabakova, Jason Rothman, Paula Kempchinsky, and Elena Gavruseva
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