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Abstract

Accurately using articles has consistently been a difficult task for English language learners as articles are often treated as solely grammatical forms rather than also recognizing as representatives of complex semantic properties. This paper aims to synthesize individual research on semantic factors which influence article acquisition and explore how they interact with each other. This paper especially focuses on how native and second language speakers of English acquire and understand the concepts of definiteness and specificity and explores these features within the framework of Chomsky’s theory of Universal Grammar. This paper examines the Fluctuating Hypothesis (FH) and its use as a theoretical framework for a variety of modern article acquisition research. The theory states that ELLs have access to Universal Grammar when discovering the parameters for the semantic categories of definiteness and specificity. This paper then explains the interaction between the FH and transfer in language learners from both article-based and articleless language backgrounds, concluding that transfer does not override the effects of the FH. Additional semantic factors such as countability, plurality, and idiomatic phrase structures are also discussed in this paper, emphasizing the many complex layers ELLs must learn to navigate. This paper examines recent attempts to create linguistically informed article instruction, some of which incorporate concepts from the FH. Finally, the paper provides guidelines for English language instructors, stressing the importance of understanding features of their students’ native language, building students’ awareness of the complexities associated with article use, and correcting their misconceptions of specificity and definiteness.

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