Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Is the Acquired before or after A?

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Is the Acquired before or after A?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. With the intent to examine the universality and applicability of a well-documented article acquisition sequence, this study investigated the acquisition of English articles by a 9-year-old beginning Chinese ESL learner in the American context. The longitudinal data collected during the 13 months of the study were first thoroughly indexed using NUD*IST 3.0.4d (QSR 1998), a computer software program for qualitative data analysis. The data were then statistically analyzed by using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS 6.1; see Nousis 1996). Brown's (1973) coding scheme, Pica's (1983) coding scheme, and a revised scheme were used in scoring the spoken data. Results showed that a was acquired before the. The findings from this study, on the one hand, challenge several claims documented in the current L2 research literature and on the other hand, provide new insight into the understanding of acquisition processes of English articles by Chinese ESL learners. **

INTRODUCTION. The English article is 'one of the notorious problem areas that foreign learners of the language are faced with' (Robberecht 1983:61). It has also been reported that the English article is the ESL teacher's toughest teaching problem (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman 1983). Quite ironically, articles 'are never taught to the native speakers of English because of their obviousness' (Kaluza 1981:7) in spite of the facts that a and the constitute two of the top five most frequently used words in the English language (Carroll, Davies & Richman 1971, Taylor & Taylor 1990) and that the English article system is a complex syntactic phenomenon from the linguistic point of view (Christophersen 1939, Chomsky 1962, Hewson 1972, Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech & Svartvik 1985). Because of their frequent use, their complex syntactic nature, and their difficulty in second-language learning and teaching, English articles and their acquisition sequence have been the focus of a number of important second language acquisition studies (Bailey, Madden & Krashen 1974, Dulay & Burt 1974, Hakuta 1976, Huebner 1983, Parrish 1987, Master 1988, Thomas 1989, Chaudron & Parker 1990, Lee, Cameron, Linton & Hunt 1994). Research to date has consistently reported that the definite article the is acquired before a by ESL learners.

Although there have appeared so far no findings that challenge this proposed sequence, several issues relating to this sequence still remain unsettled and call for further research. First, this sequence needs to be tested among learners with different language backgrounds for its validity and universality. The baseline data of Chinese ESL learners, for example, are useful in this regard since there is no article system in Chinese. Moreover, in the current literature there is little longitudinal performance data available concerning Chinese-speaking children's acquisition of English articles. As Master (1988:9) rightly points out, 'a true picture of article acquisition should be based on longitudinal studies' and not on cross-sectional studies. Second, no explanation has been offered regarding why the is acquired before a, even though this sequence runs counter to current pedagogical practice wherein the is often considered more complex and difficult to teach, and it conflicts with learners' retrospection when they usually feel that the is more difficult to learn. Third, the term acquisition appears to be defined by different researchers in different ways. Understanding it in a more comprehensive way requires further studies and explorations. As an attempt to address those issues, the present study investigates longitudinally one Chinese child's acquisition of the English article system.

1. LITERATURE REVIEW. Research on the acquisition or the use of articles by L2 learners has appeared only relatively recently. There is a history of contrastive studies in articles: English versus Slavic in Kaluza (1963), English versus Persian in Jafarpur (1979), and English versus Arabic in Al-Johani (1982). …

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