Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Slabakova, Roumyana

First Committee Member

Davies, William

Second Committee Member

Rubach, Jerzy

Third Committee Member

Gavruseva, Elena

Fourth Committee Member

Rothman, Jason


Second language (L2) learners notoriously have trouble using articles in their target languages (e.g., a, an, the in English). However, researchers disagree about the patterns and causes of these errors.

Past studies have found that L2 English learners:

*Predominantly omit articles (White 2003, Robertson 2000),

*Overuse the (Huebner 1983, Master 1987, Parrish 1987, Tarone & Parrish 1988, Thomas 1989, Ionin 2003), or

*Overuse a (Leung 2001).

Previously proposed explanations of the causes of article errors include:

*Learners have incorrect or incomplete semantic representations (Tarone & Parrish 1988, Hawkins & Chan 1997, Goto Butler 2002, Ionin 2003), or

*Learners have complete, correct semantic representations for articles, but difficulty choosing the lexical form during production due to stress on mental processing or phonological limitations (Lardiere 1998, Bruhn de Garavito & White 2000, White 2003, Goad, White, & Steele 2003).

Prior studies have focused on articles, which identify discourse relationships, but have not considered other morphemes that do so as well, such as pronouns and demonstratives. Furthermore, they have focused on L2 errors in isolation and not in the context of a full discourse or contrasted with first language (L1) input. This study examined the use of articles and other discourse morphemes in 20 L1 and 20 L2 English essays. L2 essays were produced by L1 Chinese and Korean writers at two proficiency levels. The essays' noun phrases (NPs) were marked for part-of-speech, co-reference, syntactic position, and other discourse-relevant features. L2 errors were identified and categorized.

Frequency data showed that L2 proficiency level more often indicated significant differences in discourse construction than L1. No significant difference between L2 and L1 writers was when considering all articles together. Breaking this down, students used a/an significantly less than L1 writers, but the use of the was not significantly different. In contrast, the error analysis showed most L2 mistakes being made in the use of the, with almost none in the use of a/an. Together the frequency and error data give a richer understanding of discourse and article use in L2 production.


Chinese, corpus linguistics, discourse, ESL, Korean, second language acquisition


xxii, 384 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 376-384).


Copyright 2010 Jane E Gressang

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