The role of structural position in the acquisition of L2 phonology

Gabrijela Vokic, Purdue University


The purpose of the present study was to examine whether the structural position of a sound in a word affects L2 speech production. This was accomplished by answering the following research questions (a) Do L2 learners rely on distributional information in the process of L2 speech learning? and, if so, (b) Are similar or dissimilar distributional patterns more easily acquired by L2 learners? The parameter for similarity and dissimilarity was set around the notion of structural position in combination with L1 and L2 phonemic and allophonic inventories. It was hypothesized that phonemes coexistent in L1 and L2 with overlapping distribution in both languages will be the easiest to acquire, whereas the most difficult instance for acquisition will be the development of a novel L2 contrast and its equally successful maintenance in all structural positions in which it occurs in L2, with varying degrees of difficulty in between. In order to test the hypothesis, this study analyzed the speech of 24 subjects 12 naive adult native speakers of English acquiring Spanish as L2 (NSE) and 12 naive adult native speakers of Spanish acquiring English as L2 (NSS). Data collection was carried out in a professional recording studio and consisted of the subjects reading aloud a list of stimuli, each one representative of a particular parameter of (dis)similarity, in four sets of repetitions. The data were then analyzed perceptually with the assistance of spectrographic analysis by using Praat software version 4.3.02. Qualitative support for the claim that L2 learners rely on distributional patterns in the process of L2 speech learning was found among NSE, but not among NSS, who were equally successful in producing target sounds with both overlapping and non-overlapping distributional patterns in L1 and L2. Additionally, various factors that impede information provided by distributional patterns were discovered. Those factors are the persistence of L1 phonological rules, reliance on orthography, familiarity with lexical items, the functional load of the target sound in a particular structural position, the propensity of certain structural positions to be acquired earlier, and the relative inherent articulatory complexity of the sounds being acquired.




Hammond, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Language arts

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