Acquiring L2 Syllable Margins : Studies on the simplification of onsets and codas in interlanguage phonology

University dissertation from Stockholm : Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm Unviersity

Abstract: This thesis deals with developmental, universal, grammatical, and functional factors involved in the acquisition of L2 syllable structure. More specifically, using speech data from Spanish and Chinese learners of Swedish, the thesis examines the production and development of syllable onsets and codas—that is, syllable margins. In doing so, the present work draws on various theoretical considerations and empirical findings from research on L1 and L2 acquisition, phonology and phonetics, language variation and language typology. The thesis includes three empirical studies, all of which are based on longitudinal conver­sational data. Study I deals with the acquisition of word-initial /sC(C)/ onsets by one native Spanish speaker, whereas Study II and Study III focus on the acquisi­tion of word-final codas by three native Chinese speakers. Study I and Study II both showed that onset and coda length and phonetic environment are influen­tial factors in the production of syllable structure, while sonority may not be as reliable a predictor of production difficulty. Next, both Study I and Study III provide evidence of a U-shaped rather than linear development of pronunciation accuracy. This pattern is interpreted as an effect of initial increase in fluency, with more focus on content and less on form. In addition, Study III showed that L2 proficiency is related to the epenthesis-deletion differential. An increasing ratio of epenthesis-to-deletion is the first-order indicator of increasing L2 profi­ciency during early stages of acquisition, but increased target-like production becomes the first-order indicator of development at later stages. Finally, Study III showed that learners are aware of potential ambiguity resulting from simpli­fication in different grammatical/functional categories. Codas that are essential for the retention of semantic information are preserved through higher accuracy rates and higher relative levels of epenthesis errors.

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