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Current Issues in Second Language Phonology. John Archibald LESLLA 2009, Banff CANADA. Current Issues in Second Language Phonology. (and a bunch of other stuff). Overview. Some basic facts about language. Benefits of bilingualism. Second language phonology. Age effects.

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current issues in second language phonology

Current Issues in Second Language Phonology

John Archibald


  • Some basic facts about language.
  • Benefits of bilingualism.
  • Second language phonology.
  • Age effects.
  • Special populations.

Who am I?

    • A linguist with an interest in the study of learning second (or other) languages.
    • Someone with a past life as an ESL teacher at the credit and non-credit level.
  • Who am I not?
    • Someone who has a lot of experience with the population in question for this conference
basic facts about language
Basic Facts About Language
  • How many languages are there? Close to 7,000.
  • There are no primitive languages; understudied languages may have surprising properties:
    • Inalienable possession
    • Evidentiality
  • All languages have a grammar; share basic properties

Even the native speakers may feel that their language is somehow “inferior”

  • Remember that prestige judgments are social not linguistic
    • Double negatives: Old English vs Modern English; urban dialects
  • We have ample evidence that even if the speakers are nervous about the status of their L1 that it will be a robust natural language
most languages in the world don t have writing systems
Most languages in the world don’t have writing systems
  • So, writing systems are not essential components of human languages
  • But they have decided socio-economic implications in many societies
a multilingual planet
A Multilingual Planet
  • Bilingualism and multilingualism is the norm on this planet
  • Monolingualism is the exception
benefits of bilingualism
Benefits of Bilingualism
  • What effects does learning a second language have?
  • It has both linguistic and non-linguistic benefits.
increased syntactic complexity
Increased Syntactic Complexity
  • We know that exposure to an L2 can enhance the complexity of syntax used in producing the first language. Studies have shown that the sophistication of language actually increases when there is knowledge of a second language.
  • Not only does knowledge of another language not harm your first language, it can actually enhance it.
enhanced narrative strategies
Enhanced Narrative Strategies
  • We know that exposure to a second language can enhance language use skills (things like narrative strategies, both reading and writing literacy skills in the L1, and vocabulary scores).
metalinguistic awareness
Metalinguistic Awareness
  • We know that bilinguals have greater meta-linguistic awareness – which leads to better performance in tasks when we need to pay attention to structure (e.g. writing), and also to increased sensitivity to the needs of the listener
general cognition
General Cognition
  • We know that bilinguals have cognitive advantages as demonstrated in scores on tests of analogical reasoning and visual-spatial skills.
room for everyone
Room For Everyone
  • We know that being taught in one language doesn’t lead to a reduced capacity in the other language. In fact, maintaining bilingual proficiency (rather than becoming monolingual in the socially dominant language) can actually benefit school performance.
  • The goal is not to become a monolingual English speaker.
  • Grade 3 students were tested and it was found that students who had studied a foreign language had significantly higher scores on the mathematics subtest of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills than did students who did not take a foreign language.
what is phonology
What is Phonology?
  • More than pronunciation
  • It’s about a system of knowledge; mental representation
  • It’s about what you know (not just what you can do)
  • Consonants and vowels
  • New languages may have new contrasts
  • Learning English [θ] (as in ‘think’)
  • Learning the difference between the ‘l’ in “leaf” and the ‘l’ in “fall”
  • L1 phonology, universal patterns, and L2 phonetics all influence the acquisition of L2 sounds
  • Imagine learning the French [ü]
  • English speakers tend to substitute an [u] sound
  • Portuguese speakers tend to substitute an [i] sound
  • L1 properties may explain this
  • Syllables have internal structure:
    • The onset consonant comes before the vowel
    • The coda consonant comes after the vowel
    • E.g., “cat”
  • Consonant clusters?
    • Yes: English
    • No: KoreanYes ++: Swedish, Polish
  • Coda consonants?
    • Lots: English
    • Some: Japanese
    • None: Hawaiian
repair strategies
Repair Strategies
  • Epenthesis versus deletion as repair strategies
  • Epenthesis: “went” -> “wenti”
  • Deletion “went” -> “wen”
repair strategies24
Repair Strategies
  • Epenthesis (over deletion) increases as task formality increases
  • Epenthesis (over deletion) increases as proficiency increases
  • Some languages have stress and some do not
  • Stress: English, French, Spanish, Finnish
  • Tone: Chinese, many African languages
  • Pitch Accent: Japanese
  • L2 learners can acquire new settings
non stress languages
Non-Stress Languages
  • Even L1s that lack stress are able to acquire representations that include stress. E.g., Chinese and Japanese learners of English stress
  • Stress can be predictable:
    • Polish: penultimate
    • French: Final
    • Czech: Initial
  • Or variable:
    • English, Russian
  • The L1 stress rules can influence L2 production and perception
importance of perception
Importance of Perception
  • Mis-perception as basis of foreign accent
  • L2 sounds shoe-horned into L1 categories
    • E.g., [q] as [k]
  • Actually hearing things that aren’t in the input string (Japanese listeners of French): ebzo/ebuzo
l1 perceptual filter
L1 Perceptual Filter
  • Japanese has 1 liquid [ɾ]
  • Japanese learners lend to hear English [r] and [l] as examples of [ɾ]
  • English speakers tend to hear French [ü] as [u]
the l1 does influence the l2
The L1 does influence the L2
  • The L1 grammar does transfer to the L2 and influence the new grammar
  • At first transfer effects are prevalent, and then the system starts to adopt L2 rules and become a kind of hybrid system
intelligibility comprehensibility
  • Just because someone has an L2 accent doesn’t mean their speech is impossible to understand
  • Intelligibility is a measure of whether the words can be understood by native listeners
  • Comprehnsibility is a measure of how difficult it is to retrieve the words being spoken
  • Some errors are more difficult to process than others
you can learn new stuff
You can learn new stuff
  • Just because you lack certain things in your L1 doesn’t mean you can’t learn them
  • It’s not like a door has closed
    • Chinese learners of English [l]/[r]
    • English learners of Japanese [t]/[tt]
    • Japanese learners of Russian [r]
global accent
Global Accent
  • Even nativelike global accent is not unattainable for late learners (though rare)
age effects
Age Effects
  • Adults can acquire nativelike ability
  • Late learners’ speech rate is slower
should you start early
Should You Start Early?
  • There are some advantages but it’s never too late.
upper limits of late sla
Upper Limits of Late SLA

Attainment potential not inferior to L1A

Similar ends can be reached by different means

electrophysiology erp
Electrophysiology (ERP)
  • ERP components reveal certain differences between the brain activation of L1 and L2 speakers.
  • Age of Acquisition of L2 has an effect on the pattern of brain activation as revealed by ERPs.
  • High proficiency in L2 results in patterns of activation quite similar to those of native speakers.
erp signature components
ERP Signature Components






erps and age of acquisition
ERPs and Age of Acquisition
  • Content words were treated similarly in all groups.
  • However, function words showed very definite age effects.
  • Age doesn’t affect all areas equally
erps and proficiency in l2
ERPs and Proficiency in L2
  • High proficiency in L2 results in patterns of activation quite similar to those of native speakers.
  • Age isn’t the only relevant factor.
two cognitive mechanisms
Two Cognitive Mechanisms


Stored in & retrieved from associative memory (along with arbitrary facts, dates, lists, etc.)


Computed in procedural system (responsible for coordination of motor & cognitive skills, symbol manipulation, etc.)

special populations
Special Populations?
  • Dyslexia
  • Developmental delay
special populations48
Special Populations
  • Students with language or other impairments require special support regardless of the language of instruction
diagnostic difficulty
Diagnostic Difficulty
  • It can be difficult sometimes to diagnose learning disability in second language learners (Case & Taylor 2005)
  • We need to try to provide effective L2 instruction and accommodate learning difficulties (Artiles & Artiz 2002)
  • Teach basic skills or concepts
  • Reteach via different approaches to those who fail to meet expected performance levels
  • Refocus instruction
  • Ortiz, A. (1997). Learning disabilities occurring with linguistic differences.
developmental delay
Developmental Delay
  • Children with developmental disabilities attending Jacaranda school in Nairobi are speakers of not only English and Kiswahili but also indigenous languages.
  • Kenyan children with developmental delay perform equally well in multiple languages (including reading and writing) as their monolingual American counterparts
  • Candelaria-Greene, J. (1996). A paradigm for bilingual special education in the USA: lessons from Kenya.
  • Can be difficult, though not impossible, to diagnose
  • Cline, T. & N. Frederickson (1999). Identification and assessment of dyslexia in bi/multilingual children. International Journal of bilingual Education and bilingualism 2(2): 81-83.
  • One study looked at Norwegian dyslexics acquiring English as an L2.
  • Helland, T. & R. Kaasa (2004). Dyslexia in English as a second language. Dyslexia 11(1): 41-60.
  • The authors recommended that the higher proficiency dyslexic group would be successful in foreign language courses with extra aid in spelling (such as a computer spell checker). The lower proficiency group was recommended for adjusted L2 education to match their level of L2 development.
  • Another study debunks the assumption that L1 difficulties due to dyslexia will necessarily manifest in L2 learning. Individuals identified as dyslexic may experience anxiety in their L1 inhibiting learning; L2 learning offers the pupil a chance to be equal with non-dyslexic peers and develop confidence and a fondness for language learning unknown to them in their L1.
  • When attempting to learn the sound system of a new language, lower-educated second language learners are engaged in a very complex task
  • Yet, research shows that it is a feasible task
  • Neither age nor education are barriers to success
  • Many special populations are able to acquire second languages
  • Of course, it’s hard work, it’s stressful, and there is a great deal riding on the outcome of the journey they are on
  • But teachers can help, and the learners are equipped with the necessary hardware and software they need to succeed.
  • Research can inform what is possible, and where our sights should be set.
  • Achieving these goals involves policy and resource commitments (so, we’ve got to lobby)
  • But the frontline workers are the most crucial for ensuring that this most special population is not marginalized.