That's not so different from the: Definite and demonstrative descriptions in second language acquisition

Tania Ionin, Soondo Baek, Eunah Kim, Heejeong Ko, Kenneth Wexler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article investigates how adult Korean-speaking learners of English interpret English definite descriptions (the book, the books) and demonstrative descriptions (that book, those books). Korean lacks articles, but has demonstratives, and it is hypothesized that transfer leads learners to (initially) equate definites with demonstratives. Following J Hawkins (1991), Roberts (2002) and Wolter (2006), it is assumed that definite and demonstrative descriptions have the same central semantics of uniqueness, but differ in the domain relative to which uniqueness is computed: while the book denotes the unique book in the discourse, that book denotes the unique book in the immediately salient situation. A written elicited production task and a picture-based comprehension task are used to examine whether Korean-speaking learners of English are aware of this distinction. The results indicate that learners distinguish definites and demonstratives, but not as strongly as native English speakers; low-proficiency learners are particularly likely to interpret definite descriptions analogously to demonstrative descriptions, in both tasks. These results pose interesting conceptual and methodological questions for further research into the second language acquisition of article semantics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-101
Number of pages33
JournalSecond Language Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


  • articles
  • definiteness
  • demonstratives
  • determiners
  • nouns
  • semantics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language

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