Article Omission and Overuse: Syntax and Semantics of the English Article System in Interlanguage Grammar

Jun Matoba (2008). Article Omission and Overuse: Syntax and Semantics of the English Article System in Interlanguage Grammar PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Jun Matoba
Thesis Title Article Omission and Overuse: Syntax and Semantics of the English Article System in Interlanguage Grammar
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2008-09
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr. Mary Laughren
Dr. Michael Harrington
Total pages 224
Total colour pages 4
Total black and white pages 220
Subjects 420000 Language and Culture
Abstract/Summary This thesis examines ungrammatical article omission, and overuse of the definite article 'the' in indefinite specific context by Japanese learners of English. This is an area of English grammar that has been considered a major problem for L2 learners (e.g. Ionin, Ko & Wexler, 2004; R. Hawkins et al., 2005, 2006; Trenkic, 2007). The thesis extends the analysis of Japanese learners' interlanguage to the overuse of 'a' in indefinite specific mass contexts by these learners. A detailed analysis of DP structures in Japanese and English leads to the conclusion that Japanese learners, through their L1, are equipped with the linguistic features which map onto articles in English, even though Japanese lacks articles. The thesis examines the syntactic role of articles in rendering predicative nouns argumental (e.g. Chierchia, 1998; Longobardi, 1994) and explores the definiteness contrast marked by 'the' as opposed to 'a/ø' with singular count nouns and mass nouns (e.g. J. Hawkins, 1978) at the semantic level. Count/mass distinctions are also examined in detail (e.g. Doetjes, 1997; Jackendoff, 1992) because the 'a' versus 'Ø' contrast clearly relates this distinction. This thesis argues that, despite its lack of articles, the Japanese grammar expresses definiteness and count/mass distinctions through its classifier system. For example, different orderings of the constituents in a classifier phrase induce different interpretations as to definiteness (e.g. Kakegawa, 2004). Further, the thesis shows that some classifiers are incompatible with mass nouns, thus argue that in Japanese, as in English, nouns are associated with the features which underlie the count/mass distinction. Thus, the difficulty that Japanese learners display in mastering the grammar of articles in English is attributed to difficulties in the mapping between their syntactic and semantic underlying knowledge and the surface forms (e.g. Lardiere, 1998) rather than to the need to acquire new features or categories of syntactic or semantic knowledge as the Representational Deficit Hypothesis (R. Hawkins, 2005) claims. This proposal differs from the previous studies that assume that the relevant syntactic category is not present in the learners’ L1 thus not acquirable in the L2 (R. Hawkins et al., 2005; Trenkic, 2007). It also differs from those that suggest that, even when the learners’ L1 does not overtly realize these features (Ionin et al., 2004), the semantic features are available through universal grammar (UG). In order to examine how Japanese learners map syntactic and semantic knowledge onto the surface forms of articles in their English, data were collected via an oral production task and two types of grammaticality judgment tasks. An online judgment task was used to gather evidence for an intuitive type of knowledge of the constraints on article use, while an offline judgment task examined conscious metalinguistic knowledge of articles. Because L2 learners tend to construct and apply various metalinguistic rules as to the use of articles (Goto-Butler, 2002), the examination of both intuitive and conscious knowledge is essential for a comprehensive understanding of the development of the article system in interlanguage grammar. For the mapping of the syntactic knowledge of articles, the omission of articles by Japanese participants is investigated. The investigation focused on singular count nouns because the omission of articles with these nouns is ungrammatical in any context. It was observed that several of the Japanese participants indeed disallowed article omission for these nouns, suggesting that they had acquired the English system of mapping relevant syntactic knowledge onto the surface forms of articles. The thesis also explores the mapping of the semantic knowledge of articles by focusing on the overuse of 'the' in indefinite specific contexts. Previous studies have claimed that the overuse of 'the' is governed by the Article Choice Parameter (Ionin et al., 2004). The findings reported here confirm the tendency to overuse 'the' in indefinite specific (i.e. noteworthy (Ionin et al., 2004)) contexts. However, it was also observed that 'a' was judged acceptable in the same context. The offline grammaticality judgment task revealed that the choice of 'the' in this context may have been affected by metalinguistic knowledge. Thus, the findings are not in agreement with the hypothesis that a parameter governs the overuse of 'the' in indefinite specific contexts. Additionally, the thesis examines the overuse of 'a' in mass contexts. Though small in number, the participants who make inconsistent judgments for the same noun showed a tendency to accept the use of 'a' in specific contexts (i.e. de re specific) and reject it in non-specific contexts. It is argued that the feature [+specific] may be mapped onto 'a' in mass contexts in these learners’ grammar. Based on these findings, the thesis explores how the syntactic module and the semantic module interact with each other in L2 grammar when mapping linguistic knowledge onto surface forms. The thesis also explores the effect of metalinguistic knowledge on L2 learners’ grammaticality judgments in order to demonstrate a more comprehensive picture of article systems in interlanguage grammar.
Keyword English articles, definiteness, count/mass distinctions, interlanguage grammar, metalinguistic
Additional Notes pp.212-215 printed in colour

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