The role of referentiality in Cantonese ESL learners’ judgment of the correct use of English articles

Alice Yin Wa Chan, Hong Kong, ID LLCE2016-233;           This paper discusses the role of referentiality in Cantonese ESL learners’ judgment of the correct use of English articles. 33 Hong Kong Cantonese ESL learners majoring in English participated in a research study, which included a grammaticality judgment task requiring the participants to judge the grammaticality of 60 sentences with regard to the use (or non-use) of the English definite article. In some of the sentences, the article the was missing, while in other sentences an unnecessary the was used. There were also some grammatical sentences as distractors. The sentences included were adapted from instruments documented in previous research studies, authentic examples from other sources such as children’s fiction and linguistic books, as well as contrived sentences particularly made up for the purpose of the task. The participants were required to judge the grammaticality of the sentences and correct the ungrammatical ones accordingly. The results of the study show that although Cantonese ESL learners are sometimes inclined to use their own intuition as the basis of grammaticality judgement, many of them are aware of the importance of referentiality for article selection. However, the use of the definite article for generic use often escapes learners’ attention. It is recommended that ESL teaching professionals alert students to this area of article use.