Generic Reference in English, Arabic and Malay: A Cross Linguistic Typology and Comparison

  •  Eidhah Abdullah AL-Malki    
  •  Norazman Abdul Majid    
  •  Noor Abidah Mohd Omar    


According to the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English 1999 by Biber et al. (p. 266) generic article uses are more than twice as common in academic English than in conversation or fiction. This is an area that English for Academic Purpose (EPA) textbooks and teachers would need to target more than general English teaching. This paper is therefore a contribution towards better understanding of what linguistic facts about generics teachers and textbooks of EAP might need to cover in order to deal with them satisfactorily, particularly for learners with Arabic or Malay as L1. This paper is also significant as it is the first to compare the expression of generic meanings by noun phrases in three typologically quite different languages: the Germanic language English, the Semitic language Arabic and the Austronesian language Malay. The contrast between the three languages is substantial in that they have different settings according to the nominal mapping parameter (NMP), which captures some widespread generalizations about the occurrence of mass and countable nouns and articles in the languages of the world. As a part of a bigger project that investigates the acquisition and interpretation of generic reference by speakers of these languages, this article is descriptive and comparative in nature. The main finding is that the rules for mapping forms to generic meanings are more complex in English than in Malay or Arabic, in that English marks the difference between NP level and S level genericity and between established and non-established categories.

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