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Ongoing Projects

Lauren Brocious (UROP Project)

In the past decade or so, researchers have become interested in the role that orthographic input plays in adult second language acquisition, especially the acquisition of novel phonemes in a second language. Previous research has looked at how orthographic input that is familiar or similar to the learner’s L1 aids the learner in distinguishing novel phoneme contrasts in the L2. Little has been done, however, to look at how learners make use (or not) of an entirely new writing system in learning distinctions in novel phonemes of the L2. The goal of this research project is to see if learners can make use of an entirely unfamiliar writing system (Korean) to help them distinguish the three-way stop contrast in Korean in a systematic way. Participants will undergo two learning conditions in three phases (word-learning phase, criterion test phase, and final test phase). In each condition, participants will hear a recording of a Korean-like word, see a non-object picture and the written form of the auditory input. One condition will be given the correct Korean writing and its systematic differentiation of the consonants. The other condition, however, will receive a random assortment of Korean letters matched with Korean consonants. We expect that the condition with the orthographic input that maintains the systematicity of the Korean writing system will yield more accurate results in participant’s ability to distinguish the novel Korean phonemes.

Catherine E. Showalter (Dissertation)

Adult learners of a second language (L2) often have difficulty perceiving novel L2 phonological contrasts, limiting their ability to establish contrastive lexical representations of L2 words (e.g., Cutler, Weber, & Otake, 2006; Escudero & Wanrooij, 2010). However, learners are able to make use of some kinds of input to facilitate word learning; specifically, learners have been shown to be able to exploit orthographic input (OI) to learn the phonological content of new words (Escudero, Hayes-Harb, & Mitterer, 2008; Showalter & Hayes-Harb, 2013). In contrast with these findings, others have demonstrated interference or no effect of OI (Bassetti, 2006; Simon, Chambless, & Alves, 2010).

Recent research has identified a number of variables associated with OI shaping the inferences learners draw about words’ forms, including phonological contrast difficulty (e.g., Escudero, 2015), explicit instruction (e.g., Jackson, 2016), and word familiarity (e.g., Veivo & Järvikivi, 2013). In the present dissertation I will focus on two variables: grapheme familiarity and congruence. Few studies have directly investigated the effects of grapheme familiarity and congruence simultaneously (with the exception of Hayes-Harb & Cheng, 2016), although each of the variables has been investigated separately (e.g., Hayes-Harb, Nicol, & Barker, 2010; Showalter & Hayes-Harb, 2015; Mathieu, 2016). In addition, few studies have investigated effects of these variables on experienced L2 learners or how explicit intervention can mediate the effects of OI.

The present dissertation involves two primary research questions to be answered in a series of experiments: How do grapheme familiarity and congruence interact during L2 acquisition by naïve listeners and by more experienced learners of the target L2? Can the effects of familiarity and congruence be mediated via an explicit intervention?

To the extent that the present study reveals a negative impact of unfamiliarity and incongruence, these findings will reinforce the robust effect that OI has been previously shown to exert on L2 learners’ ability to make target-like inferences about words’ phonological forms. Further, the present dissertation contributes to the growing body of empirical work on the influence of OI in L2 acquisition with a focus on experienced L2 learners and the role that explicit instruction may play in moderating negative effects of OI.

Taylor Anne Barriuso (Dissertation)

One of the biggest challenges facing adult language learners is that of acquiring the sound system of the second language. Adult learners are sensitive to sounds that are contrastive in their native language, but they have less sensitivity to sounds that do not signal meaningful differences in their native language. While it has been shown that adults do have the capability to acquire novel phones in their second language, which features of the input adults are able to use for phonological development remain to be determined.

Two proposed features of the input will be investigated in this dissertation: phonological distributional information for learning L2 allophones and highly variable phonetics for learning L2 phonemes. Both studies will incorporate training protocols that have been supported for language acquisition.
The first study, investigating the role of phonological distributional information in the acquisition of allophones, employed a laboratory distributional training procedure (Peperkamp, Pettinato, & Dupoux, 2003; Hayes-Harb, 2007) followed by an ABX discrimination task. Participants naïve to or relatively inexperienced with Spanish were exposed to the Spanish /b/-/β/ alternation in either overlapping or complementary distribution. If participants were able to learn about the phonological relationship of a pair of phones from their phonological distribution, participants exposed to the pair in overlapping distribution were expected to outperform participants exposed to the pair in complementary distribution on the ABX task. The two groups performed the same on the discrimination task, suggesting that phonological distributional information alone may not be sufficient for adult allophone acquisition.

The second study, investigating whether perceptual gains from High Variability Phonetic Training (HVPT) can generalize to higher level tasks, such as word learning, will employ freely-available online implementation of HVPT (English Accent Coach (EAC), Thomson, 2012b) to actual second language English (ESL) learners. Research utilizing HVPT has demonstrated robust perceptual gains for learners. ESL students trained using EAC and a control group of ESL students without training will complete a pretest and a posttest, each containing a discrimination task and an artificial-lexicon learning task. The HVPT group is expected to improve on both tasks following training, and the control group is expected to show no difference between the pretest and the posttest.
The results of the studies will be discussed with regard to their implications for language teaching and their contributions to our understanding of what features of the input adults are able to take advantage of for L2 phonological development. 

Eve Olson (Honors Thesis)

The goal of this project will be to study the pronunciation by Arabic speakers of stop various stop consonants in regards to voice onset time. In English, there exists a phonological contrast between voiced and voiceless pronunciations of bilabial, alveolar, and velar stop consonants. These pairs are [p]/[b], [t]/[d], and [k]/[g] respectively. In [some dialects of] Arabic, the voiced and voiceless versions of the alveolar stop are contrastive, but the same does not apply to bilabial and velar stops. [b] and [k] are included in the phonological inventory, but [p] and [g] do not. This leads to a question of pronunciation: if voice onset time for the [t]/[d] pair is contrastive as it is in English, do Arabic speakers typically pronounce [b] with a similar voice onset time to that of English speakers, or does Arabic speakers’ voice onset time vary more liberally due to the absence of a contrastive voiceless equivalent? And do Arabic speakers’ pronunciation of [k] coincide with that of English speakers, or does it vary because it has no contrastive voiced equivalent?

 To conduct this study, we plan to record the speech of native Arabic speakers and to analyze their pronunciation of the phonemes in question. We will create a list of Arabic nonwords in which the phonemes appear as an onset, and we will mix into the list other distractor words containing other phonemes. Each word will be preceded by the phrase “أُحِبُ كَلِمَة...” (I love the word…), and the subjects will be asked to read each sentence aloud in a normal speaking voice. In order to collect a wide range of data, we will place each phoneme with a variety of word endings, as following consonants and vowels may influence pronunciation.

We will conduct an identical experiment with English subjects and a list of English nonwords that use the appropriate phonemes in English. Each word will be proceeded by “I love the word…” and as with the Arabic experiment, the subjects will be asked to read each line in a normal speaking voice.

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.

Catherine E. Showalter & Rachel Hayes-Harb

Listeners are able to use systematic variations within speech, non-native or accented, to understand a talker’s utterance. In some cases, listeners make use of their lexical knowledge in order to make inferences about a talker’s utterance. In the present study, we explored how the variables of lexical frequency and lexical familiarity would affect listeners’ ability to adapt to foreign accented speech. Native English speakers and non-native English speakers were asked to transcribe adaptation and test words produced by a nonnative speaker of Enligsh. They were also asked to indicate whether the words were familiar to them. Results indicate that neither lexical frequency nor individuals’ familiarity with the presented words was correlated with word identification. What listeners make use of to adapt to non-native or foreign accented speech requires further exploration.


 Joselyn Rodriguez (UROP project) & Shannon Barrios

A substantial literature has investigated the acquisition of novel phonemic contrasts by adult second language (L2) learners. However, much less work has investigated the acquisition of L2 allophonic variants. In the present study, we contribute to the latter by investigating whether adult L2 learners can make use of lexical cues in the form of visual referents to acquire L2 allophones.

During the exposure phase, participants were presented an artificial lexicon consisting of 16 CVCV non-words (8 [m]-[l] and 8 [b]-[β] minimal pairs). Each word was presented auditorily while an image (its “meaning”) appeared on the screen. Participants were assigned to one of two exposure conditions (Same or Different image). Both groups heard auditory forms that differed in either [m]-[l] or [b]-[β], while only the Different Image group were shown pictures that reinforced the contrast (i.e. The Different image group heard [bati] and [βati] and saw ‘apple’ and ‘penguin’, respectively. The Same image group heard [bati] and [βati] and saw and image of a ‘penguin’). 

At test, participants completed an AXB discrimination task to determine whether the exposure phase had an impact on their perception of the [b]-[β] contrast. If subjects inferred that the two phones are phonologically related from exposure to minimally distinct auditory forms paired with the same referent, participants should have more difficulty discriminating the pair than subjects who heard the same auditory forms but saw them paired with distinct objects. Participants were additional tested on their ability to lexically encode the contrast in the familiar words, as well as generalize what they learned about the contrast to a new set of unfamiliar words. During both tests participants heard an auditory word and were shown an image and had to determine if a paired auditory form and the picture matched. If exposure to the auditory contrast paired with distinct images allowed the Different image group to infer that the [b]-[β] contrast can distinguish word meanings, the participants should encode the contrast in their lexicons.  In contrast, if the Same image group inferred that the pair does not distinguish meaning, the participants should not encode the contrast in their lexicons.  As a result, the Different image group was expected to more readily detect when auditory forms and pictures mismatched minimally (i.e. when [bati] is incorrectly paired with ‘penguin’), than the Same image group.  The results of this study will contribute to our understanding of the role of lexical cues in the acquisition of L2 allophonic variants.


Last Updated: 4/5/18