LINGUIST List 28.2546

Thu Jun 08 2017

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Escuerdo, Colantoni, Steele (2015)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 05-Feb-2017
From: Chunsheng Yang <>
Subject: Second Language Speech
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Laura Marcela Colantoni
AUTHOR: Jeffrey Steele
AUTHOR: Paola Escudero
TITLE: Second Language Speech
SUBTITLE: Theory and Practice
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Chunsheng Yang, University of Connecticut

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The field of second language (L2) speech learning, namely, how learners perceive, produce, and understand L2 sounds, has rapidly developed in recent years, evidenced by the numerous publications of journal articles, edited volumes and monographs. There is even a new journal, The Journal of Second Language Pronunciation, and an annual conference of L2 pronunciation (Annual conference of Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching (PSLLT) dedicated to L2 speech learning and teaching, let alone many other more established and more comprehensive L2 journals and conferences (New Sounds [], etc.). In such a context, “Second Language Speech: Theory and Practice” is a “long overdue” book (Barbara Bullock, the back cover of the book), which provides a practical and comprehensive introduction to L2 speech research.

The book comprises three parts. Part I focuses on research questions and theoretical frameworks for L2 speech. Chapter 1 introduces important L2 research questions, including the role of input, cross-linguistic influence (CLI), developmental sequences and relative difficulty of acquisition, interlearner and intralearner variability, and ultimate attainment of L2 speech. Chapter 2 focuses on theoretical frameworks in L2 speech research, including the Speech Learning Model (SLM; Flege, 1995), Perceptual Assimilation Model (PAM; Best,1995) and PAM-L2 (Best & Tyler, 2007), and Second Language Perception Model (L2LP; Escudero & Boersma, 2004), Articulation Setting Theory (AS: Honikman, 1964), Markedness Differential Hypothesis (MDH; Eckman, 1977), and Ontogeny and Phylogeny Model (OPM; Major, 2001), and so on. The first three models focus on speech perception while the rest focus on speech production. While all perception models assume the importance of the comparison of L1 and L2 sounds in predicting L2 speech perception, they differ in their primitives (phonetic, phonological, or both), the structures they targeted (phonemes, position-specific allophones, phonemic contrasts, phonological versus lexical representations), and the ways and extent to which they predict how perceptual learning occurs (p. 71). There are no particular models of L2 speech production; therefore, the production models discussed in the book draw upon the work in other fields, such as phonetics, phonology and L2 acquisition (p. 71). The discussion of these theoretical frameworks was conducted with respect to the research questions in L2 speech, making it more reader friendly and accessible.

Part II, Chapter 3, of the book focuses on research methodology in L2 speech. It discusses the five major steps in doing L2 speech research, from formulating research questions and hypotheses, to research design, to participant recruitment, to data collection and data analysis, to result dissemination. This chapter is relevant mainly for those who have little or no research experience in L2 speech. Many researchers who have done L2 research before can quickly look through or just skip this chapter.

Part III is the most important section of the book, providing case studies and analysis of L2 speech research, focusing on vowels (Chapter 4), obstruents (Chapter 5), sonorants (Chapter 6), sequences (Chapter 7), prosody (Chapter 8), and conclusion (Chapter 9).

Chapter 4, “Vowels”, discusses the learning of L2 vowels. Previous studies involving the learning of difficult vowels, such as the English tense-lax and front-mid vowels, and the French and German front-rounded vowels, were presented vis-a-vis some of the main tenets of the above-mentioned theoretical models. The discussion of the previous studies highlights the difference in learning new and similar vowels, the effect of L1 vowel inventory on vowel learning, the relationship between L2 vowel production and perception, and the effectiveness of L2 vowel training. Drawing on previous research, the discussion of these topics (the same for Chapters 5-8) guides the reader through the whole process of L2 speech research, namely, to raise research question, make hypotheses and test them, and discuss in relation to L2 speech models.

Chapter 5, “Obstruents”, focuses on stops and fricatives. The overview of previous studies on L2 obstruent learning shows that the learning issues relevant for stops (such as the different voice onset time boundaries )are slightly different from those relevant for fricatives, due to the difference in the cross-linguistic distributions of stops and fricatives (for example, many languages have three ways of contrast for stops accompanied by voicing contrasts, but not fricatives). Some emerging research areas, such as the role of orthography in L2 speech learning and the acquisition of sociophonetic variation, were also reviewed.

Chapter 6, “Sonorants”, discusses the phonology and phonetics of sonorants, such as laterals, rhotics, and nasals, research topics in the acquisition of sonorants, especially the acquisition of the English /l/-/r/ contrast by native speakers of East Asian languages, and some understudied themes, such as the effect of input on sonorant learning, and the role of orthographic input in the acquisition of sonorants.

Chapter 7, “Sequences”, focuses on consonant cluster and other consonant sequences. Topics covered include cross-linguistic consonant cluster typology, the phonology of consonant cluster, phonetics of consonant sequences, L2 learners’ modifications of consonant sequences (epenthesis, deletion, substitution, metathesis or reordering of segments), and other themes in L2 acquisition of sequences, such as gestural timing and L2 acquisition of sequences, phonological word constraints and the modification of sequences. The discussion of these studies shows that syllabification is characterized by a high degree of variability conditioned by speaker, linguistic, and task variables (p. 305). Also the mastery of consonant clusters is shaped by factors beyond syllable structure, such as the “low-level articulatory constraints that ensure regular phonetic timing and higher-level prosodic constraints on the shape of phonological words” (p. 305).

Chapter 8, “Prosody”, examines the acquisition of stress, tones, intonation and fluency, which span units larger than a single segment. Topics discussed include the acquisition of lexical prosody (stress or tone), and intonation and phrasing, boundary type and sentence type, prosody beyond intonation (duration at the lexical level, duration and pause), fluency, and theories of L2 acquisition of prosody as well as the contribution of prosody to foreign accent. As the authors pointed out (p. 341), most studies on foreign accent, including L2 prosody, do not clearly differentiate intelligibility and accentedness. While it is important to differentiate L1 and L2 accent, it is equally, maybe more important, to examine the intelligibility of L2 prosody, because intelligibility, as compared to L2 accent, is most critical for successful L2 communication ( Munro and Derwing, 2011:316-317). It is predicted that, as we gain more understanding of the connection between meaning and intonation, more studies will explore the role of prosody on intelligibility, instead of only focusing on the difference between L1 and L2 prosody (p. 341).

Worth mention is that Chapters 4-8 all include “tutorial” and “lab” sections. The tutorial section walks readers through the measurement of important acoustical parameters step by step, and the “lab” section provides readers with hands-on experience of conducting an L2 speech study with real data based on the University of Toronto Romance Phonetics Database as well as English data collected for this volume.

The last chapter, Chapter 9, summarizes the previous chapters in detail. Also discussed in Chapter 9 are directions for future study: 1) methodological innovations in L2 speech study, such as the use of new imaging technology, like ultrasound, and of large spoken corpora ; 2) possible research themes and questions in five areas: a. the role of input; b. the mutual benefit of bi/multilingualism and L2 speech learning; c. the developmental pattern of L2 speech learning; d. the investigation of individual difference; and e. the effect of orthography on L2 speech learning.


One of the goals of the authors of Second Language Speech is to “produce a research manual that would provide present and future researchers with the practical tools and some of the experience” of doing L2 research (p. xx). I believe that the authors have indeed achieved this goal by providing such a “well-organized and reader-friendly” book on L2 speech (Ocke-Schwen Bohn, back cover of the book). Not only does the book discuss the theoretical frameworks of L2 speech research, it also introduces the most important research themes and methodology used in L2 speech research. The discussion of these research themes and questions is supported by case studies on segmental and suprasegmental aspects of L2 speech. The book will be of great interest to advanced undergraduate and graduate students, and researchers in L2 speech learning and second language acquisition. Meanwhile, the book can serve as a good and accessible textbook to graduate seminars in L2 speech learning. One advantage of using the book as a textbook is that instructors can fill in the gaps with needed background knowledge in phonetics and phonology.

The book mainly focuses on three target languages, English, French and Spanish, as these three languages are the most widely studied second/third languages in the US, Canada and much of Europe (pp. xxi). However, non-European languages should definitely be studied in order to test the hypotheses made by different theoretical frameworks of L2 speech learning. For example, the predicted difficulty of learning L2 segments within the framework of SLM should be tested on the learning of tones in tonal languages. Another example is that studies on the effect of orthography on L2 speech learning should include non-alphabetical languages, such as Chinese, to examine the effect of the logographical writing system on L2 speech learning. The authors did discuss the importance of research on non-European languages in the direction of future studies (p. 365). However, it is important to point out that L2 speech studies on some non-European languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, are already abundant and include topics way beyond tone acquisition, such as the interaction of tones and intonation (Vigel, 2007; Yang, 2016.), the effect of orthography on L2 speech (Hayes-Harb and Cheng, 2016 and references therein), and focus, intonation and other prosodic aspects (Xu, Chen, and Wang, 2012; Xu and Wang, 2009, and many other studies by Xu and colleagues).

In sum, with its wide coverage and accessible content, Second Language Speech will prove to be an accessible textbook, as well as a helpful and valuable manual or reference book in L2 speech research, for many years to come.

Best, C. T. (1995). A direct realist view of cross-language speech perception. In W. Strange (Ed.), Speech Perception and Linguistic Experience: Issues in Cross-language Research (pp.171-204). Baltimore: MD: York Press.

Best, C. T., & Tyler, M. D. (2007). Nonnative and second-language speech perception: Commonalities and complementarities. In J. Munro & O. S. Bohn (Eds.), Language Experience in Second Language Speech Learning. In Honor of James Femil Flege (pp. 13-34). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Eckman, F. 1977. Markedness and the contrastive analysis hypothesis. Language Learning, 27: 315-330.

Escudero,P., & Boersma, P. (2004). Bridging the gap between L2 speech perception research and phonological theory. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26(4), 551-585.

Flege, J. E. (1995). Second language speech learning: Theory, findings, and problems. In W. Strange (Ed.), Speech Perception and Linguistics Experience: Issues in Cross-language Research (pp. 233-272). Baltimore, MD: York Press.

Hayes-Harb, R., & Cheng, H.-W. (2016). The Influence of the Pinyin and Zhuyin Writing Systems on the Acquisition of Mandarin Word Forms by Native English Speakers. Frontiers in Psychology.

Honikman, B. (1964). Articulatory settings. In D. Abercrombie, D. B. Fry, P. A. D. MacCarthy, N. C. Scott & J. L. M.Trim (Eds.), In Honor of Daniel Jones: Papers Contributed on the Occasion of his Eightieth Birthday, 12 September 1961 (pp. 73-84). London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Major, R. C. (2001). Foreign Accent: The Ontogeny and Phylogeny of Second Language Phonology. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Munro, J. M., & Derwing, T. M. (2011). The foundations of accent and intelligibility in pronunciation research. Language Teaching, 44, 3, 316-327.

Viger, T. L. (2007). Fundamental Frequency in Mandarin Chinese and English: Implications for Second Language Speakers. Ph.D dissertation. The City University of New York.

Xu, Y., Chen, S.-W., & Wang, B. (2012). Prosodic focus with and without post-focus compression (PFC): A typological divide within the same language family? The Linguistic Review 29: 131-147.

Xu, Y., Wang, M. (2009). Organizing syllables into groups -- Evidence from F0 and duration patterns in Mandarin. Journal of Phonetics 37: 502-520

Yang, C. (2016). The acquisition of L2 Mandarin prosody: From Experimental Studies to Pedagogical Practice. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Chunsheng Yang is an assistant professor of Chinese and applied linguistics at the University of Connecticut. His research interests include the acquisition of L2 prosody, second language pronunciation teaching and research, applied linguistics, and Chinese pegagogy in general.

Page Updated: 08-Jun-2017