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Review of  Recent Research in Second Language Phonetics/Phonology

Reviewer: Chunsheng Yang
Book Title: Recent Research in Second Language Phonetics/Phonology
Book Author: Michael A. Watkins Andreia Rauber Barbara O. Baptista
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Cognitive Science
Language Acquisition
Discipline of Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.3027

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EDITORS: Michael A. Watkins, Andreia S. Rauber and Barbara O. Baptista
TITLE: Recent Research in Second Language Phonetics/Phonology: Perception and
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
YEAR: 2009 

Chunsheng Yang, Whitman College/Northwestern University

This book collects selected papers presented at ''New Sounds 2007: Fifth
International Symposium on the Acquisition of Second Language Speech'', held in
Florianopolis, Brazil, in November 2007. The collection consists of 17
experimental studies on the acquisition of second language (L2)
phonetics/phonology, organized into four parts on vowels, on consonants, on
syllable structure, and structures beyond the syllable.

Part 1 deals with the acquisition of L2 vowels. Chapter 1, ''Assessing the
effects of phonetic training on L2 sound perception'' by Cristinea Aliaga-Garcia
and Joan C. Mora, concerns the acquisition of both vowels and consonants. It
examines the effects of phonetic training on the production and perception of
English stops and vowels by Spanish learners of English as a Foreign Language
(EFL). It was found that phonetic training does not lead to significant
improvement, even though learners did perceive and produce some pairs more
accurately after training. For example, the perception of /p/ and /b/ improves
greatly and voice onset time (VOT) displays a significant shift towards longer
VOT. Specifically, /p/ and /t/ were produced with longer VOT after training, but
the negative VOT values in /b/ and /d/ did not shorten after training, while
vowel accuracy as measured by formant 1 (F1) and formant 2 (F2) did not improve.
It was argued that the size and effect of training on perception and production
differs greatly according to phonetic dimension and sound contrast.

Chapter 2, ''Training and generalization effects of English vowel reduction for
Spanish listeners'' by Esther Gomez Lacabex, Maria Luisa Garcia Lecumberri, and
Martin Cooke, investigates the training and generalization effects of English
unrounded mid-central schwa for Spanish listeners. Results showed improvement in
perception performance after both perception and production training. It was
argued that both production and perception training contributed to the
development of the students' perceptual abilities. The improvement of the groups
receiving articulatory training supports a facilitating relationship between
production and perception in that production training contributes to the
development of perception. It was also found that the improvement in perception
can be carried over to a non-instructed, more challenging context.

Chapter 3, ''Starting age and exposure effects on EFL learners' sound production
in a formal learning context'' by Ian R. A. MacKay and Natalia Fullana, examines
the age of onset (AOL) and exposure effects on Spanish EFL learners' vowel
production in a formal learning context. EFL learners' vowel productions
elicited through repeating production tasks were rated by native speakers of
general Canadian English with respect to the degree of accentedness. The
Canadian English native listeners were also asked to identify the vowels in
those elicited words. The results showed that there is little or no correlation
between accent ratings and vowel identification. Thus, AOL and exposure to
English did not result in accent-free production of English vowels. It was
argued that this result suggests that an AOL of less than 8 years and more than
7.5 years of formal instruction are needed to produce English vowels at a
native-like level in a strictly formal learning context.

Part 2 concerns the acquisition of L2 consonants. Chapter 4, ''The impact of
allophonic variation on L2 speech perception'' by Chiara Celata, investigates the
Western Tuscan participants' discrimination of the Russian /s/ versus /ts/
contrast. The results of two-alternative forced choice identification tasks
displayed a significant allophonic effect for the discrimination of both native
and nonnative post-sonorant stimuli. Chapter 5, ''Perception and production in
the acquisition of L2 phonemic contrasts'' by Fred R. Eckman, Gregory K. Iverson,
Robert Allen Fox, Ewa Jacewicz, and Soyoung Lee, examines the perception and
production of the English /s/ versus /š/ contrast in English by Korean and
Japanese EFL learners. In Korean, [s] and [š] are allophones and [s] becomes [š]
when it is before [i], while in Japanese there is a surface contrast between /s/
and /š/ before [a,o,u], but only [s] surfaces before [e] and only [š] before
[i]. Two hypotheses were proposed. Hypothesis 1: in the production data, a
subject's interlanguage grammar will evidence a contrast between /s/ and /š/ in
derived environments only if the contrast is found also in basic environments.
Hypothesis 2: in the perception data, an interlanguage grammar may show the
contrast between /s/ and /š/ in derived environments without also having it in
the basic environments. Hypothesis 1 was supported in the results from the
Korean subjects, while the second hypothesis was confirmed by both Japanese and
Korean subjects. The difference in the production performance of Korean and
Japanese subjects can be accounted for by the differences in the phonemic status
of /s/ and /š/ in the two native languages.

Chapter 6, ''Production and perception of voicing contrasts in English word-final
obstruents: Assessing the effects of experience and starting age'' by Nataliza
Fullana and Joan C. Mora, examines the production and perception of the voicing
contrast in English word-final obstruents by Catalan EFL learners, as well as
the effect of age of onset (AOL) and experience in English on the perception and
production. The AXB discrimination task shows that neither AOL nor experience
had a significant effect on the correct discrimination for obstruent contrasts,
and that learners discriminated the three pairs of contrasts(i.e., /s/-/z/,
/p/-/b/, and /t/-/d/) at similarly high rates and late learners resembled native
speakers. Production of the obstruent contrasts also displayed non-significance
with respect to AOL and exposure to English. However, earlier learners resembled
native speakers in that they produced slightly shorter voiced and longer
voiceless consonants in word-final position. But, an increase in exposure did
not result in learners consistently using vowel duration as a cue to voicing in
word-final obstruents. It was pointed out that the quality of input should be
taken into consideration when AOL and exposure are being examined.

Chapter 7, ''Francophone ESL learners' difficulties with English /h/'' by Paul
John and Walcir Cardoso, deals with Francophone ESL (English as a Second
Language) learners' difficulties with English /h/. More specifically, this study
examines the linguistic and extralinguistic factors that trigger the occurrence
of h-epenthesis in ESL. It was found that h-epenthesis occurs more frequently in
the stressed syllables, in words preceded by vowels or pause, in the presence of
another [h] in proximity, and in more formal styles of speech, and that
h-epenthesis rates rise and then fall as a function of increased proficiency.
Lexical confusion (francophones' uncertainty as to which words are supposed to
contain /h/) and francophones' desire to produce the prestige marker (i.e.,
adding [h]), were proposed to account for the distribution patterns of

Chapter 8, ''The use of visual cues in the perception of English syllable-final
nasals by Brazilian EFL learners'' by Denise Cristina Kluge, Mara Silvia Reis,
Denize Nobre-Oliveira, and Melissa Bettoni, investigates the effect of visual
cues on the perception of English syllable-final nasals by Brazilian EFL
learners. The results showed that the perception of /m/ and /n/ is the easiest
in the audio-video condition, then in the video-only condition, and the most
difficult in the audio-only condition. Also the preceding vowel influenced the
perception of English coda nasals; namely, a lower vowel favored identification
of the alveolar nasal /n/, while a high vowel disfavored the identification of /m/.

Part 3 focuses on the acquisition of syllable structure. Chapter 9, ''Perceptual
training in the pronunciation of /s/-clusters in Brazilian Portuguese/English
interphonology'' by Messia Bettoni and Rosana D. Koerich, deals with the effects
of perceptual training on the epenthesis and voicing of /s/-clusters by
Brazilian Portuguese EFL learners. The results show that perceptual training
improved both perception and production, that the improvement was retained after
five months, and that there was transfer of improvement to unfamiliar talkers
and to untrained words. Chapter 10, ''When input frequency patterns fail to drive
learning: The acquisition of sC onset clusters'' by Walcir Cardoso and Denis
Liakin, examines the acquisition of sC (C for consonant) onset clusters by
Brazilian Portuguese ESL learners. The Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP, that
is, ''in any syllable, there is a segment constituting the syllable peak [usually
a vowel] that is preceded and/or followed by a sequence of segments with
progressively decreasing sonority values'' (Selkirk 1984: 116)) predicts that the
markedness hierarch is /st/ > /sl/ > /sn/, which means that /st/ would be
acquired the last. However, corpus analysis shows that /st/ has much higher
frequency than /sl/, and /sl/ than /sn/; thus, /st/ is predicted to develop
before /sl/ and /sn/ in L2. To test the validity of these two predictions, data
containing these sC clusters were collected using a picture-naming production
task. The results show that the sC clusters develop as a function of increased
proficiency and, more importantly, that the development of sC clusters follows a
path similar to that predicted by markedness (SSP) effects, not frequency effects.

Chapter 11, ''The variable perception of /s/ + coronal onset clusters in
Brazilian Portuguese English'' by Walcir Cardoso, Paul John and Leif French,
examines the variable development in perception of English /s/+coronal onset
clusters by the Brazilian Portuguese (BP) speakers with no previous exposure,
and by ESL learners of different proficiency levels. A perception test with BP
speakers with no previous exposure of English shows that these listeners could
decide whether the words they heard begin with /st/, /sl/, or /sn/. It was
argued that these listeners resorted to phonetic processing in this task due to
the lack of these clusters in BP. A second test with BP learners of English of
different proficiency levels showed that both proficiency and sonority
sequencing had significant conditioning effects on the variable perception of
English sC clusters. It was argued that, rather than markedness or perceptual
salience, it is input frequency that predicts the sequence in which sC
perception is likely to develop. The findings in Chapters 10 and 11 showed that
perception and production of sC clusters do not go in tandem. It was suggested
that ''two phonological grammars are necessary to explain the
perception/production dichotomy.'' (p. 225)

Chapter 12, ''Interaction of L2 phonotactics and L1 syllable structure in L2
vowel production'' by Juli Cebrian, investigates the acquisition of segmental and
nonsegmental structure by looking at the acquisition of the English tense-lax
vowel contrast by native speakers of Catalan, a language with no segmental
tense-lax contrast and no syllabic restrictions on vowels. Experiment 1 shows
that L2 learners display some knowledge of the lower vowel constraint (LVC,
which restricts lax vowels, but not tense vowels, to closed syllables), although
to a lesser extent than native speakers. Experiment 2 shows that knowledge of
the LVC does not result in target-like syllabification of medial consonants.
English native speakers resort to coda syllabification of intervocalic
consonants to prevent a lax vowel in an open syllable, while Catalan learners
syllabify English words following L1 principles.

Chapter 13, ''Factors influencing the VOT of English long lag stops and
interlanguage phonology'' by Mehmet Yavas, examines the effects of place of
articulation and the height of vowels on the amount of aspiration in the stops
by ESL Spanish learners. Two hypotheses were tested. Hypothesis 1: Voice onset
time (VOT) will increase as the place of articulation moves from front to back;
Spanish learners have least difficult with the bilabial /p/, more with alveolar
/t/, and most with velar /k/. Hypothesis 2: VOT will increase more significantly
when the target stop occurs before high vowels than before low vowels.
Hypothesis 1 was confirmed in all pairs except between alveolars and velars when
preceding low vowels. Hypothesis 2 was confirmed in bilabials and velars, but
not in alveolars.

Finally, Part 4 concerns strings above the syllable and general issues in second
language acquisition. Chapter 14, ''First language attrition in foreign accent
detection'' by Roy C. Major and Barbara O. Baptista, concerns language attrition
and perception of foreign accent in L1 and L2. It was found that BP native
speakers residing in Brazil and those living in the USA could both identify
native speakers from non-native speakers, indicating no L1 attrition. But, there
is L1 attrition in BP listeners' ratings of non-native speakers. It was found
that the country of residence seemed to be a more important factor than being a
native or non-native listener, which means that continued exposure to native
speakers' speech is important to achieving native-like perception of foreign

Chapter 15, ''Investigating the role of orthography in the acquisition of L2
pronunciation: A case study'' by Rosane Silveira, discusses the effect of
orthography on the pronunciation of L2 English word-final consonants in a
44-year-old Brazilian social science professor. The results suggested a strong
effect of L1/L2 grapho-phonic-phonological transfer. It was also found that the
pronunciation of some word-final consonants was more commonly affected by
orthography than others. Another finding is that various factors affect the
production of consonants: previous experience, L1 spelling-sound
correspondences, cognate words, words with irregular pronunciation, phonotactic
rules, and task type;

Chapter 16, ''The impact of voice quality resetting on the perception of a
foreign accent in third language acquisition'' by Magdalena Wrembel, investigates
the impact of voice quality resetting (due to L2 German) on the perception of a
foreign accent in the third language (English) acquisition by Polish speakers.
The findings corroborate Hammarberg and Hammarberg's (1993, 2005) results
concerning the dominating effect of L2 on L3 phonological acquisition. The
partial reliance on L2 phonetic encoding at early stages of L3 phonological
acquisition was claimed to be a copying strategy that outweighs L1 transfer,
which diminishes with the increase in L3 proficiency and gradual approximating
to the target norm.

Finally, Chapter 17, ''Perception of Norwegian word tones by Chinese and German
listeners'' by Wim A. Van Dommelen and Olaf Husby, examines the perception of
Norwegian word tone by Chinese and German listeners. Results show that Chinese
listeners outperformed the Germans with generally higher rates of correct
responses. Discrimination performance for the German group was also
substantially higher than chance level. These results were attributed to the
fact that the Norwegian tone system has merely two different tonal melodies.
Another reason is that the German listeners judged the stimuli using
psychoacoustic rather than linguistic criteria.

This collection provides a set of state-of-the-art studies in the acquisition of
L2 phonetics and phonology. All the papers describe careful empirical research
and, they will be of great interest to anyone working in L2
phonetic/phonological acquisition and experimental phonetics. While all the
studies are experimental in nature, some adopt approaches to data elicitation
from sociolinguistics. Therefore, this book will also be of interest to
sociolinguists, especially sociophoneticians. Given the coverage of segments
(i.e., vowels and consonants), syllable structure, orthography, foreign accent
ratings, and suprasgmentals (i.e., tones), the range should inspire more new
research in second language acquisition (SLA). Still, it is a great pity that
no single study in this collection treats the acquisition of L2 prosody (stress,
prosodic phrasing, intonation, etc.). Due to the wider span of prosodic
phenomena (i.e., those spanning more than a syllable), the acquisition of
prosody may pose unique difficulties for L2 learners. In L2 pronunciation,
prosody is as important as -- if not more important than -- consonants and
vowels (Yang 2011).

One concern is that readers new to SLA may have some difficulty understanding
the experimental design of some studies. For example, many perceptual studies
adopted the AXB discrimination tasks. However, without prior knowledge of such
perception experiments, some readers may have difficulty following the
discussion. Moreover, the approaches to data elicitation in different studies
are varied. Thus, it would be advisable to include an overview of methodology of
perception and production studies in SLA, including but not limited to such
topics as different approaches to data elicitation in production studies,
including their weaknesses and strengths, as well as discrimination and
identification tasks used in perceptual studies. With this background, it would
be easier for readers to better understand the studies in the collection.

Finally, in spite of such small drawbacks, this collection of papers will prove
to be a great resource for those working on the acquisition of L2 phonetics and
phonology. Not only will these studies contribute to the development of second
language acquisition research, they will also benefit theoretical linguistics
and yield new insight into general issues in linguistics, such as what
characterizes the phonological space of the bilinguals, and how is it different
from that of the monolinguals, etc.

Hammarberg, B. and B. Hammarberg. (1993). Articulatory re-setting in the
acquisition of new languages. Phonum 2,61-67.

Hammarberg, B. and B. Hammarberg. (2005). Resetting the basis of articulation in
the acquisition of new languages: A third-language case study. In B. Hufeisen
and R. Fouser (eds.), Introductory Readings in L3 (pp. 11-18). Tubingen:

Selkirk, E. (1984). On the major class features and syllable theory. In M
Aronoff and R. Oerhle (eds.), Language Sound Structure (pp. 107-136). Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press.

Yang, C. (2011). The Acquisition of Mandarin Prosody by American Learners of
Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL). Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. The Ohio
State University.

Chunsheng Yang has a PhD in Chinese linguistics. His research interests are phonetics, phonology, language pedagogy, and second language acquisition (especially the acquisition of second language prosody). Currently he is a lecturer in Chinese at Whitman College, and will begin to work at Northwestern University this fall.

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