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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Role of Imitation in Learning to Pronounce Add Dissertation
Author: Piers Messum Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of London, PhD Linguistics
Completed in: 2007
Linguistic Subfield(s): Applied Linguistics; Phonetics; Phonology; Psycholinguistics; Cognitive Science; Language Acquisition;
Subject Language(s): Dutch
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Director(s): Brenda Cross
Michael Ashby

Abstract: Timing patterns and the qualities of speech sounds are two important
aspects of pronunciation. It is generally believed that imitation from
adult models is the mechanism by which a child replicates them. However,
this account is unsatisfactory, both for theoretical reasons and because it
leaves the developmental data difficult to explain.

I describe two alternative mechanisms. The first explains some timing
patterns (vowel length changes, ‘rhythm’, etc) as emerging because a
child’s production apparatus is small, immature and still being trained. As
a result, both the aerodynamics of his speech and his style of speech
breathing differ markedly from the adult model. Under their constraints the
child modifies his segmental output in various ways which have effects on
speech timing; but these effects are epiphenomenal rather than the result
of being modelled directly.

The second mechanism accounts for how children learn to pronounce speech
sounds. The common, but actually problematic, assumption is that a child
does this by judging the similarity between his own and others’ output, and
adjusting his production accordingly. Instead, I propose a role for the
typical vocal interaction of early childhood where a mother reformulates
(‘imitates’) her child’s output, reflecting back the linguistic intentions
she imputes to him. From this expert, adult judgment of either similarity
or functional equivalence, the child can determine correspondences between
his production and adult output. This learning process is more complex than
simple imitation but generates the most natural of forms for the underlying
representation of speech sounds. As a result, some longstanding problems in
speech can be resolved and an integrated developmental account of
production and perception emerges.

Pronunciation is generally taught on the basis that imitation is the
natural mechanism for its acquisition. If this is incorrect, then
alternative methods should give better results than achieved at present.