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The use of the English article system by Chinese and Spanish learners

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Chapter Summary

In this paper we investigate the use of the English article system in two comparable learner corpora, Chinese-English and Spanish-English. Such investigation is significant as article use is at the interface of syntax, semantics and pragmatics. In addition, the differences between these particular learner groups are interesting in that the article system does not exist in Chinese and the Spanish article system is slightly different from the English one (Lyons 1999). The theoretical framework used for the analysis of the data is that of Bickerton’s (1981) semantic wheel based on a taxonomy of features - [± specific reference] and [± hearer knowledge] - and the theory of definiteness within pragmatics (e.g. Hawkins 1978, 1991). We highlight and explain similarities as well as differences between the article use of these two groups, using the methods of explanation of contrastive analysis (CA) and contrastive interlanguage analysis (CIA) in an integrated contrastive model (ICM) (Granger 1996, Gilquin 2000/2001). Given the assumptions that article underuse is a grammatical deficit and article overuse and misuse is a pragmatic deficit (cf. Thomas 1989), we test the hypothesis that Chinese learners have both a grammatical and pragmatic deficit, whereas Spanish learners may only have a pragmatic problem, especially in generic contexts.



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