Second language acquisition of articles

Second language acquisition of articles: Empirical findings and theoretical implications. Ed. by María del Pilar García Mayo and Roger Hawkins. (Language acquisition and language disorders 49.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. ix, 272. ISBN 9789027253101. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by Ana Diaz Collazos, University of Florida

Second language acquisition of articles is a collaborative work that consists of nine papers. The contributors mainly test the validity of the article choice parameter (ACP), posited by Tania Ionin in 2004. According to the ACP, languages encode definiteness or specificity, but not both. Speakers of article-less languages will encode specificity (referent identifiable by the speaker) rather than definiteness (referent assumed as identifiable by the hearer) in their second languages (L2s). Conversely, speakers of languages with articles will transfer first language (L1) articles into their L2s.

In the first part, Maria del Pilar García Mayo identifies different mechanisms of transfer that operate in Spanish learners of English. Ghuisseh Sarko compares speakers of Syrian Arabic and French in their English articles. Syrian Arabic encodes definiteness through an overt morpheme, but indefinite referents produce bare nouns, which produces a great variability that disallows for any generalization of the ACP. Marta Tryzna finds that the posited difference between definiteness and specificity is not consistent in the English production of Mandarin and Polish speakers. Lucy Kyoungsook Kim and Usha Lakshmanan, on the other hand, find evidence in favor of ACP with Korean L1 speakers, L2 English. According to Danijela Trenkic, it is not ACP but the saliency of the referent that plays a role in L2 articles. A speaker of L1 with articles tends to be accurate when producing L2 articles in contexts where it is necessary to identify the referent because it is less salient in the spectrum of common knowledge.

In the second part, Tania Ionin and Silvina Montrul study the acquisition of bare generics in English by Korean speakers, identifying two non-target-like patterns: bare nouns in specific referents and definite articles in generic referents. Fufen Jin, Tor A. Ǻfarlí, and Wim A. van Dommelen compare native speakers of Chinese and English in Norwegian as a second language. The different patterns shown within the same group of individuals cast doubt on the possibility of any generalization. Heather Goad and Lydia White find that Turkish speakers adopt a prosodic word representation in English that is not present in either language. Carol Jaensch finds that as the proficiency of Japanese speakers of German as a third language increases, the target use of definite articles does also, but omissions and substitutions still occur because appropriate phonological forms are mismatched to a [+/- definite] feature.

The contributors follow a uniform theoretical framework, methodology, and terminology, which allows a homogeneous development of ideas. However, the bulk of the findings suggests the impossibility of either proving or discarding the ACP, which makes this a work of a great scientific honesty. It is a useful guide for beginners and a necessary source for future research.