The acquisition of four non-generic uses of 'the' by EFL learners


This paper examines one aspect of article acquisition: the various nongeneric uses of the definite article in English. Previous research (Hawkins, 1978) identified eight major categories of nongeneric use. More recent work by Lius and Gleason (2002) reduced the categories to four (cultural, situation, structural and textual) and proposed a difficulty hierarchy for those four uses. The aim of this paper is to validate their difficulty hierarchy with a different sampling of learner population and overcoming some problems with the proficiency measures used. The participants, 16 elementary, 31 low-intermediate and 22 advanced Spanish EFL learners, read 85 sentences containing 60 deleted obligatory uses of ‘the’ and 40 distractor items.There was alos a control group of 15 native speakers. Our findings indicate that (i) the four nongeneric ueses prsente different levels of difficulty for the EFL learners, (ii) learners underuse of obligatory ‘the’ decreases significantly from elementary to low-intermediate level but this does not hold for the transition between low-intermediate and advanced levels, (iii) the participants’ performance in the overuse of ‘the’ is strongly influenced by the L1 and improved significantly with proficiency leve, and (iv) the difficulty hierarchy proposed for and ESL setting is validated.