While much is known about article omission and misuse in L2 English production (Thomas, 1989; Ionin, Ko and Wexler, 2004; Trenkic, 2007), little is known of how learners perceive English articles. According to the Prosodic Transfer Hypothesis (Goad and White, 2004), L1 prosody constrains the production of L2 functional elements, including articles. We hypothesize that L1 prosody also constrains L2 learners' ability to perceive functional elements in the L2. In this study, the perception of English articles by adult Korean and Mandarin L2 English learners of advanced proficiency were tested. Learners completed a transcription task consisting of 18 sentences targeting definite, indefinite and article-less nouns in subject and object embedded clause positions. Participants were permitted to listen to each sentence multiple times. The results indicate that the transcription error patterns are similar in the two groups: the main error types were insertion of the in the clause-initial position and article omission in the clause-final position. At the same time, it was found that the Korean speakers had higher accuracy rates than the Mandarin speakers, despite the fact that the Mandarin group had higher L2 proficiency and greater length of L2 exposure. These findings point to two conclusions: (1) the prosodic system of Korean provides some advantage in perceiving English articles, unlike that of Mandarin, which may lead to inaccurate perception of English articles; (2) errors of the overuse, known to be common in production (cf. Ionin et al. 2004, Trenkic, 2008, i.a.), have a counterpart in perception. Errors in article perception are addressed in light of the differences in the prosodic systems of Mandarin (Mok and Dellwo, 2008) and Korean (Jun, 1998). Finally it is proposed that the patterns of article suppliance reflect the relationship between articles and information structure as it relates to both the definiteness of the subject (Birner and Ward, 2006) and the distribution of definiteness in double object constructions (Bresnan et al. 2007).
Selected Proceedings of the 2009 Second Language Research Forum: Diverse Contributions to SLA
edited by Luke Plonsky and Maren Schierloh
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