LINGUIST List 25.4891

Wed Dec 03 2014

Diss: Language Acquisition, Phonology, Psycholinguistics, Writing Systems: Mathieu: 'The Influence of Unfamiliar Orthography on L2 Phonolexical Acquisition'

Editor for this issue: Danuta Allen <>

Date: 03-Dec-2014
From: Lionel Mathieu <>
Subject: The Influence of Unfamiliar Orthography on L2 Phonolexical Acquisition
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Institution: University of Arizona
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Lionel Mathieu

Dissertation Title: The Influence of Unfamiliar Orthography on L2 Phonolexical Acquisition

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
                            Writing Systems

Dissertation Director:
Michael Hammond

Dissertation Abstract:

Recent studies in the acquisition of a second language (L2) phonology have revealed that orthography can influence the way learners come to establish target-like lexical representations. The majority of these studies involve language pairs relying on a Roman script, while the influence of a foreign or unfamiliar written representation on L2 phonolexical acquisition remains understudied.

Chapter 2 considers the effects of multiple scripts (e.g. Arabic, Cyrillic, Roman) on the acquisition of the Arabic voiceless pharyngeal and uvular fricatives word-initially. Monolingual native speakers of English participated in 5 word-learning experiments where they were instructed to learn 6 pairs of minimally contrastive words, each associated with a unique visual referent. In each experiment, a different script configuration was manipulated. After an initial learning phase, participants were tested on their acquisition of these minimal pairs. Results show significant differences in phonological accuracy between groups of learners exposed to varying degrees of script unfamiliarity. Specifically, complete script foreignness exerted an inhibitory effect on L2 phonolexical acquisition, while semi-foreign scripts exercised differential inhibitory effects based on whether grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) also activated L1 phonological units. Two spelling experiments were also conducted in an attempt to find a more intuitive representation of these L2 phonemes. While spellers provided various ways to symbolically represent /χ/-words from /ħ/-words, when presented in minimal pairs (but not when presented randomly), no form-consistent pattern emerged. These spelling experiments nevertheless support the interpretation that L1 GPCs are likely activated in the course of L2 phonological processing.

Chapter 3 examines the acquisition of another L2 contrast, that of Japanese singleton/geminate consonants word-medially. In another set of 5 word-learning experiments manipulating various aspects of unfamiliar scripts (e.g. Hiragana, Roman/Cyrillic blended), it was found that the acquisition of such a length contrast was significantly affected by the foreign written input only when the unfamiliar characters encoding the contrast were graphically highlighted or when they did not convey any information about the durational dimension of the contrast. These inhibitory effects show that learners are susceptible to be confused by details featured in unfamiliar written forms. Similar to Chapter 2, two spelling experiments were conducted, where spellers failed to represent a difference between singleton and geminate auditory items, presented randomly or in minimal pairs. This lack of differentiation suggests that a consonantal singleton/geminate contrast is not so intuitive to native English speakers.

The contributions of this dissertation are manifold. First, the results show that exposure to unfamiliar written forms can significantly inhibit the successful creation of target-like phonological representations, an outcome that has thus far not been attested. Second, it provides complementary research to the subfield of L2 acquisition dealing with the interaction of phonological and orthographic knowledge. This work expands the scope of L2 contrasts and script treatments thus far investigated. Third, implications for language teaching and loanword phonology can be envisaged, given the fact that foreign written labels may not always be beneficial to learners, depending on the degree of familiarity with the L2 writing system.

Page Updated: 03-Dec-2014