Richard Nickalls

Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics
Doctoral researcher

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Phd title: How definite are we about the definite article? 
Supervisor: Dr Jeannette Littlemore and Dr Nick Groom
PhD Applied Linguistics


The difficulty with which many international students use the a/the/Ø articles is an interesting research area for both linguistic and pedagogical reasons. My research shows that learners of Enlgish, when writing academic English, are confronted with the choice of a/the/Ø articles in around 1 in every 5 words. This high frequency of use shows that improved pedagogy is important, but also makes them an ideal focus for any researcher interested in learner errors, since relatively small corpora can yield very rich insights. 

With the assumption that first language transfer effects are one variable, even if only one among other more significant factors which impact upon leaners' 'target-like use' of the article system, my thesis first investigates different LI learners' use of the English article system in academic writing using error-tagged learner corpora. After comparing their patterns of use with LI English teachers' writing, I speculate about how and why different LI learners underuse and overuse the definite articles using a testing approach to evaluate several possibilities.