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Title: Second language acquisition of definiteness : a feature-based contrastive approach to second language learnability
Author: Tuniyan, Elina
ISNI:       0000 0004 7234 2202
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2018
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The main goal of this thesis is to investigate learnability and development in the second language (L2) acquisition of syntax-semantics mismatches. Specifically, this thesis examines the acquisition of definiteness and its expression through articles in L2 English by native speakers (L1) of article-less Mandarin Chinese and Russian. Difficulties in the acquisition of the English article system have been widely attested in L2 acquisition research. In particular, it has been suggested that L2 learners from article-less languages assign inappropriate meanings to the English articles the and a (Ionin et al., 2004; Ko et al., 2008; Cho, 2016; inter alia). However, what remained unclear is why acquiring a universal concept such as definiteness is problematic for L2 English learners. This thesis offers a novel insight into the nature of the learning task involved in the L2 acquisition of English articles through reconsidering the semantics of definiteness and through formulating the acquisition task situated within the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis (henceforth, FRH, Lardiere, 2009) and the cline of difficulty in feature acquisition (Slabakova, 2009). Following Birner and Ward (1994) and Schwarz (2009, 2013), this thesis suggests that the concept of definiteness is comprised of two notions: familiarity and uniqueness. Further support for this claim comes from languages that distinguish between familiarity and uniqueness by employing two definite articles (German, Fering). This thesis suggests that in English both notions are expressed through one form of the definite article the. Cross-linguistic evidence shows that in languages without articles, as in Chinese and Russian, both familiarity and uniqueness are usually expressed through bare nouns, with the relevant interpretation filled in by context. However, familiarity can be optionally expressed through demonstratives. Since definiteness is a binary concept, all languages have means to express indefiniteness, that is, non-familiarity and non-uniqueness. In English, these two notions are expressed through the indefinite article a. In contrast, in Chinese and Russian, bare nouns are usually used to express non-familiarity and non-uniqueness, although unstressed numerals in these languages can also express these notions. Moreover, evidence from the different uses of definite noun phrases suggests that the expression of familiarity and uniqueness is dependent on another semantic concept, i.e. anaphoricity. The different meanings of definiteness are operationalised as the semantic features [familiar, anaphoric] and [unique, anaphoric] in this thesis. Under the FRH, the L2 acquisition task consists of reconfiguring features from the way they are realised in the L1 to the way they are expressed in the L2. Within the FRH, Slabakova (2009) further predicts that reassembling features that are expressed covertly, through context in the L1, but overtly, through a morpheme in the L2, will be more difficult than the overt-to-overt feature reassembly. These predictions are tested in a study with 61 Chinese learners of English (intermediate and advanced) and 48 Russian learners of English (beginner, intermediate and advanced). The results in two tasks, an acceptability judgement task and a written sentence production task that tested the interpretation and use of articles in different semantic contexts provide evidence for both the FRH and Slabakova’s (2009) predictions. In addition, this thesis reveals different factors that affect the mapping and restructuring processes of feature reassembly, such as the transparency of form-feature mapping, the semantics and uses of the closest morpholexical counterpart in the L1, the initial non-target feature mapping, and the acquisition of a new constraint. The findings also reveal that anaphoricity is a factor that plays a role in L2 learners’ interpretation and use of the English article the. Overall, this thesis advances our understanding of learnability problems in the L2 acquisition of syntax-semantics mismatches.
Supervisor: Slabakova, Roumyana ; Dominguez, Laura ; Rule, Sarah Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available