Ongoing Projects

Bruce Smith and Rachel Hayes-Harb

We compare non-native (L2) speakers to native (L1) talkers to determine whether the L2 speakers showed similar or different vowel formant patterns than the L1 talkers and also whether the L2 subjects showed similar or greater intra-subject variability relative to the L1 talkers when producing American English vowels.  First and second formants of the tense/lax vowel pairs / i -I/, / e - ɛ  /, and / u - ʊ / were measured and Coefficient of Variation was calculated for 10 native speakers of American English and 30 non-native speakers of English from three different language backgrounds (10 Mandarin speakers, 10 Korean speakers, and 10 Spanish speakers).  Overall, the L2 subjects’ vowel formant patterns were found to be comparable to those of L1 speakers approximately half of the time. Whether the L2 talkers’ vowel formants were native-like or not, however, they seldom showed greater intra-subject variability than the L1 speakers of American English.

Kelsey Williams-Brown, Rachel Hayes-Harb and Bruce Smith
Over the past several years we have seen increased interest in the role that orthographic input plays in second language (L2) phonological and lexical development. A question in particular focus has been whether learners benefit from exposure to a systematic graphemic contrast when learning to distinguish L2 lexical items involving a corresponding (novel) phonological contrast. Findings with respect to the influence of orthographic input have been somewhat mixed, with orthographic input sometimes powerfully enhancing L2 lexical encoding of novel contrasts (e.g., Escudero, Hayes-Harb & Mitterer, 2008), and in other cases having no effect at all (e.g., Simon, Chambless & Alves 2010). In a departure from this focus on L2 phonological contrast acquisition, in the present work we focus instead on the role of orthographic input in the acquisition of a novel L2 phonological process, that of German final devoicing by native English participants. In German, final obstruents are devoiced such that underlying contrasts are (mostly) neutralized (e.g., /rad/ and /rat/, spelled <Rad> and <Rat>, both pronounced [rat]). Native English speakers were exposed to German-like minimal pairs (e.g., /ʃtɑit/ and /ʃtɑid/, both pronounced [ʃtɑit]) along with pictured meanings, and in some cases, their written forms (e.g., <Steit> and <Steid>). At test, subjects whose input included written forms were more likely to produce final voiced obstruents when naming the pictures, indicating that access to spelled forms in the  input interfered with participants’ acquisition of target-like surface forms. In a separate experiment, we attempted to moderate the negative impact of orthographic input by providing explicit instruction to subjects concerning the “misleading” nature of the words’ spellings, with no effect. Together these findings indicate a powerful effect of orthographic input on L2 lexical-phonological development that is not readily overcome by instruction.

Kristie Durham & Rachel Hayes-Harb

Acoustic and perceptual measures were used to investigate the perception of Arabic emphasis, a secondary velar or pharyngeal constriction, by native English speakers. In an AXB task using cross-spliced CVCs with plain and emphatic onsets and rimes, the native English speakers were shown to rely more heavily on the rimes than onsets, with discrimination accuracy greatest when the vowel was /æ/, followed by /u/ and /i/. To explore this effect of vowel, a cross-language vowel identification task and acoustic analysis were conducted. When following emphatic onsets, Arabic /æ/ was identified by native English speakers as a systematically different English vowel than when following plain onsets, while Arabic /i/ and /u/ failed to exhibit such a differential identification pattern. Support for this Arabic-to-English perceptual mapping was provided by the comparative acoustic analysis. The raised F1 and lowered F2 in vowels following emphatic onsets resulted in the low Arabic vowel being acoustically closest to distinct English vowels in plain versus emphatic contexts, while Arabic /i/ and /u/ exhibited substantial overlap in the acoustically closest English vowels in plain and emphatic contexts.