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CReLLU Research Seminar: The semantics of L2 definites: the meaningful bounds of specificity

Wednesday 4 May 2016, 10.00AM to 11.00am

Speaker(s): Bert Le Bruyn, University of Utrecht

The SLA and the semantics literature on definites have rich but largely disjoint traditions. Recent semantic literature focuses on uniqueness and familiarity as key ingredients of definites across languages (a.o. Lyons 1999; Schwarz 2009; Arkoh & Matthewson 2013) and tries to figure out how the two interact in languages like English (a.o. Farkas 2002; Roberts 2003). Recent SLA literature and in particular the one looking at the acquisition of definites by learners with an articleless L1 has focused on specificity (a.o. Ionin 2003; Ionin et al. 2004; Tryzna 2009; Yang & Ionin 2009; Snape, Leung & Ting 2006; García-Mayo & Hawkins 2009; though see Trenkic et al. 2014).

We argue that Mandarin learners of English correctly use and interpret definites that are familiar and unique but that they have problems as soon as we move to more complex cases in which the definite is unique but not familiar.

We further show that these complex cases are exactly those in which current semantic approaches fail to make the right predictions and explore the relevance of the notion of specificity in light of these new findings.

All are welcome.

Location: D/M/212, Derwent College, University of York