LINGUIST List 25.1589

Thu Apr 03 2014

Diss: English, Italian, Phonetics, Phonology, Language Acquisition: Rognoni: 'The phonetic realization of narrow focus ...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <>

Date: 03-Apr-2014
From: Luca Rognoni <>
Subject: The phonetic realization of narrow focus in English L1 and L2. Data from production and perception
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Institution: Università degli Studi di Padova
Program: PhD in Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Luca Rognoni

Dissertation Title: The phonetic realization of narrow focus in English L1 and L2. Data from production and perception

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            Italian (ita)

Dissertation Director:
M. Grazia Busa

Dissertation Abstract:

The typological differences between English and Italian are reflected in
the strategies adopted to mark sentence-level prominence. While English
mark focus by modulating prosodic parameters (namely, pitch, duration and
intensity), Italian normally recurs to word order strategies, benefitting
from the freer word order admitted by its syntax. This study is aimed to
investigate the acquisition of the prosodic marking of narrow
non-contrastive focus by Italian speakers of English L2.

This study was mainly aimed at: (a) determining and comparing the prosodic
cues used by English native speakers and Italian speakers of English L2
when marking narrow focus; (b) verifying if the Italian speakers are able
to acquire the English prosodic strategies in focus marking as a function
of their competence in English, progressively avoiding the focus marking
strategies that characterize their L1 in favor of more native-like
solutions; (c) investigating the phenomenon not only at the production
level, but also from the point of view of perception. Consequently, this
work is composed by a production and a perception study.

The production study consisted in the acoustic analysis of native and
non-native productions. Three groups of speakers were prompted to record
sentences presenting narrow focus on subject or on verb: English native
speakers NS), Italian native speakers with a higher competence in English
L2 (NNS1), and Italian native speakers with a lower competence in English
L2 (NNS2). A similar set of Italian L1 sentences was also elicited from the
Italian speakers.

The acoustical analysis was performed at sentence and word level, and it
was mainly based on the measurement of fundamental frequency and duration.
The results confirmed that English native speakers mark narrow focus mainly
by modulating pitch. NNS1 showed a progress towards the target model, by
implementing an active use of pitch, although not perfectly matching with
the native one. Finally, NNS2 were not able to mark focus with the use of
prosodic parameters. The analysis of the Italian L1 data set suggested that
in Italian narrow non-contrastive focus is not marked prosodically.

The perception study was designed to verify whether the differences shown
by the acoustical measurements could also have an impact on the listeners'
perception. Two perception tests were designed, based on a two-alternative
forced-choice paradigm, where listeners were asked to identify narrow focus
by guessing the wh-question that had triggered each sentence.

The results of the production study and the perception study converged in
showing that in English pitch plays an important role in the production and
perception of narrow non-contrastive focus. As for non-native productions,
NNS1 could approach the native model to a certain extent by modulating F0.
From the perceptual point of view, their productions were effective enough
to be successfully understood by English native listeners.

These findings are particularly interesting not only for research in L2
phonetics, but also for their implications for language instruction, where
prosody has only recently started to be studied and taught with renewed
interest and momentum.

Page Updated: 03-Apr-2014