Genericity distinctions and the interpretation of determiners in L2 acquisition

Tania Ionin, Silvina Montrul, Ji Hye Kim, Vadim Philippov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


English uses three types of generic NPs: bare plurals (Lions are dangerous), definite singulars (The lion is dangerous), and indefinite singulars (A lion is dangerous). These three NP types are not interchangeable: definite singulars and bare plurals can have generic reference at the NP- level, while indefinite singulars are compatible only with sentence-level genericity. This study investigates whether L1-Russian and L1-Korean L2-English learners, whose article-less L1s do not morphologically encode the distinction between the two types of genericity, can distinguish between the different types of English generics. The results of a written acceptability judgment task with intermediate/advanced L2-learners showed that the learners exhibited sensitivity to the two types of genericity. They were target-like on their interpretation of bare plural and indefinite singular generics, but had not acquired the interpretation of definite singular generics. Theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-280
Number of pages39
JournalLanguage Acquisition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language

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