L1 transfer in article selection for generic reference by Spanish, Turkish and Japanese L2 learners

Neal Snape, María del Pilar García Mayo, Ayse Gürel.
International Journal of English Studies

This study examines second language (L2) acquisition of English generic noun phrases by Spanish, Turkish and Japanese learners. Languages differ in the way they express generic interpretation (Chierchia, 1998; Dayal, 2004). English and Spanish use articles with singular nouns, but Spanish, not English, uses the definite article with plurals. Turkish and Japanese lack articles as all nouns are ‘kinds’. It is predicted that Spanish learners benefit from positive transfer in the interpretation of singular nouns, but transfer is detrimental in plural and mass interpretations as they have to recover from first language (L1) transfer. Results of a forced choice elicitation task provide support for the predictions: Spanish learners oversupplied the definite article with bare plurals. But, the Turkish and Japanese learners’ oversuppliance is not due to L1 transfer. They adopt the ‘German / Brazilian Portuguese’ option of generic reference. Suppliance of articles with singular and mass nouns is also discussed. Implications of our findings are compared with previous findings on L2 article acquisition.