This study examines second language (L2) acquisition of the interpretation of plural noun phrases. Languages with articles differ in whether they use bare plurals (English) or definite plurals (Spanish) to express generic interpretation (Chierchia, 1998; Dayal, 2004; among others). It is hypothesized that Spanish-speaking learners of English transfer the interpretation of definite plurals from their native language. Results of a truth-value judgment task provide support for this hypothesis: Spanish speakers (N= 24) overaccepted the generic interpretation of English definite plurals to a greater extent than proficiency-matched speakers of Korean (N= 29), an articleless language. Results of a follow-up study further show that with advanced proficiency and increased immersion in the target language, Spanish-speaking learners of English (N= 11) were as targetlike as Korean-speaking learners of English (N= 9) on the interpretation of definite plurals, which suggests that recovery from first language transfer is possible. Implications of these findings for theories of L2 acquisition are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)877-925
Number of pages49
JournalLanguage Learning
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Articles
  • Crosslinguistic influence
  • Determiners
  • Generics
  • Kind reference
  • Noun phrases
  • Plurals
  • Semantics
  • Specific reference
  • Universal Grammar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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