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Sociolinguistics from the Periphery

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Academic Paper


Title: Acquisition of Article Semantics by Child and Adult L2-English Learners
Author: Tania Ionin
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www.linguistics.illinois.edu/people/tionin
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Author: María Luisa Zubizarreta
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~zubizarr/
Institution: University of Southern California
Author: Vadim Philippov
Institution: Oryol State University
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition; Semantics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: 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 fluctuate between dividing English articles on the basis of definiteness vs. specificity, as a result of direct access to semantic universals. The present paper examines whether similar fluctuation 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 definiteness as well as specificity. 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-specific 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.

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This article appears IN Bilingualism: Language and Cognition Vol. 12, Issue 3.

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