Article choice by Spanish L2 learnes of English: Evidence for full transfer of the definiteness parameter

Book Title
Second Language Acquisition of Articles: Empirical Findings and Theoretical Implications
M.P. García Mayo & R. Hawkins
13 - 35
John Benjamins

Ionin, Ko and Wexler (2004) show that learners of English as a second language (L2) whose first language (L1) lacks articles appear to fluctuate between their use of definite and indefinite articles. Specifically, these L2 learners seem to fluctuate between the two settings of their proposed Article Choice Parameter (definiteness and specificity). The present study tests the fluctuation hypothesis with new data from speakers of an L1 with articles encoding definiteness, Spanish, and also examines directionality effects in L2 English article use (the observed tendency of L2 speakers to supply the more frequently than a). Sixty participants from two different proficiency levels completed a written forced-choice elicitation task in English. Statistical analyses of the results show that Spanish speakers overwhelmingly choose the to mark definiteness and a(n) to mark indefiniteness and fluctuation was nonsignificant. Directionality effects appear more clearly in the low-proficiency group. The overall results provide robust evidence supporting the idea that there is semantic transfer of the properties of Spanish articles onto their English counterparts.