Acquisition of the Non-Generic Definite Article in English: The Influence of Cognitive Style

Suzanne Marie Prior, Keiko Fujise, Kimberley Diane Fenwick


The study examines the relationship between Japanese students’ uses of the English non-generic definite article and the cognitive style of field dependence/independence. According to a model by Liu and Gleason (2002), the non-generic definite article consists of four types: textual, structural, situation, and cultural. We examined whether the first three types, which involve analysis of grammatical rules, may be easier to learn for field independent learners who are more analytical. We also investigated whether cultural use, which is largely based on social convention, may be easier for field dependent individuals who have a more interpersonal orientation. Twenty-seven Japanese students studying in Canada completed a non-generic definite article test that involves filling in missing obligatory instances of the, the Group Embedded Figures Test that measures field dependence/independence, and four batteries of the Woodcock-Munoz Language Survey – Revised that together provide a measure of broad English ability. Textual and structural use were positively associated with a field independent style, over and above broad English ability. Other correlations were non-significant. Results are interpreted according to the type of cognitive learning required by the textual and structural uses of the and why these may be facilitated by a field independent orientation.

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