The acquisition of English articles by Chinese learners

Fen-Chuan Lu, Crystal
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Despite high frequency and early input, English articles (the, a, and the zero article Ø) remain a generally acknowledged marked feature for [–Article] Chinese learners. The purpose of this study was to investigate acquisition orders and underlying processes in terms of article accuracy and use by Chinese learners. The theoretical approach adopted here was Bickerton’s (1981) semantic wheel model, marked by the features, [±Specific Referent (±SR)] and [±Assumed Known to the Hearer (±HK)]. The measures employed for data analysis were SOC (Supplied in Obligatory Contexts), TLU (Target-Like Use), and UOC (Used in Obligatory Contexts). A total of 55 Mandarin Chinese speakers drawn from three proficiency groups (Advanced, Upper-Intermediate, and Lower-intermediate) participated in an article cloze test. ANOVA procedures along with Scheffé and Bonferroni follow-up tests were performed to identify the acquisition orders. The results show that SOC reveals an order of the = a > Ø, and TLU, the > a > Ø, across the groups. UOC indicates that TLU is a more reliable acquisition measure, and SOC serves better as an index of accuracy level. In addition, UOC also reveals that Ø goes through a flooding-then-trickling process, the experiences a U-shaped behavior highlighted by an overgeneralization stage, and a follows the by undergoing U-shaped development as well. Furthermore, the difficulties underlying acquisition processes were also identified: Chinese learners have difficulty distinguishing [±HK] (e.g., misuse of the for a or Ø) and [±Countability] (e.g., misuse of a for Ø, or Ø for a). This study sheds some light on article pedagogy in view of the acquisition orders, patterns in acquisition processes, and actual difficulties in article choice for Chinese learners.
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