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Effects of Competence, Exposure, and Linguistic Backgrounds on Accurate Production of English Pure Vowels by Native Japanese and Mandarin Speakers Malcolm A. Finney, James A. Till, and Naoko Tamura Department of Linguistics California State University, Long Beach

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Effects of Competence, Exposure, and Linguistic Backgrounds on Accurate Production of English Pure Vowels by Native Japanese and Mandarin Speakers

Malcolm A. Finney, James A. Till, and Naoko Tamura

Department of Linguistics

California State University, Long Beach

Contact: Malcolm Awadajin Finney, Ph.D.Associate Professor, Department of LinguisticsCalifornia State University Long BeachLong Beach, CA 90840Phone: (562) 985-7425     Fax: (562) 985-2593E-Mail:

purpose rationale
  • To investigate effects of linguistic backgrounds, degrees of English competence and exposure , and acoustic distance between L1 and L2 vowels on accurate production of 9 pure American English (AE) vowels by native speakers of Japanese (a 5 pure vowel system) and Mandarin (a 7 pure vowel system). Currently, there is incomplete understanding of the causes of this difficulty and specific vowels affected.
purpose rationale1
  • Effects of Linguistic Backgrounds: Learners from similar linguistic backgrounds may exhibit similar substitution patterns ,or substitution patterns may reflect universal processing strategies. Bohn (1995)
  • Effects of Competence & Exposure: Degree of competence and exposure may influence the degree of accuracy in production. Learners may develop and produce new L2 vowel categories more accurately with increasing exposure to and competency in L2 (Wode 1995).
purpose rationale2
  • Effects of Acoustic Distance: L2 learner’s perception of phonetic differences between L1 and L2 vowels may be influenced by degree of perceived acoustic distance or space between an L2 vowel and other L1 vowels (Flege 1995). The greater the distance, the more likely the learner will consider the L2 vowel as ‘new’ possibly leading to the establishment of a new vowel category. The less the distance, the more likely the L2 vowel will be considered to be identical to an existing L1 vowel possibly preventing the establishment of a new L2 vowel category.
participants procedures
  • 11 AE speakers, 21 Japanese speakers, and 24 Mandarin Chinese speakers.
  • All the subjects completed: 1) a Language History questionnaire; 2) An L2 Proficiency Assessment protocol 3) a set of production tasks
  • Production errors were digitally analyzed using computer software that identifies pronunciation deviations from the English norms as well as the degree of deviation from such norms. That is – objective measurement rather than subjective judgments by native speakers (used in a number of studies) was used.
production tasks
  • A two-minute monologue
  • A one-minute reading aloud for comprehension (comprehension questions following)
  • “Carrier” phrases plus target sound in word.
  • Word & sentence production elicitation task. Producing words with target sounds in isolation (word repetition task) and in “Carrier phrases (sentence repetition task)
  • Assessment focused on the accurate production of nine pure English vowels (/i,,e,,,a,o,,u/)
preliminary results f1 f2 measures for words

Results are presented for 30 young adults: 5 female and 5 male subjects for each native language group. L2 exposure, tested competence, and use varied.


METHODS – Word Elicitation & Recording

Five productions of each stimulus words were elicited in randomized order and digitized (16 bit, 22 kHz) using a custom designed computer program operating on a low noise computer in a quiet room. Participants wore a head mounted microphone.


The Vowels

Beet Bit Bait

Bet Bat Bought

Boat Book Boot

methods measurement

Mean F1 & F2 frequencies were extracted from the vowelmidpoint using the Praat program (Boersma, P. & Weenink, 2006)

high intra subject f2 variability repeated trials of same vowel by subject with 4 5 years of l2 use
HIGH INTRA-SUBJECT F2 VARIABILITYRepeated Trials of same Vowel by subject with 4.5 years of L2 use.
  • There was substantial variability in L2 vowel production accuracy between subjects in both the Japanese(JS) and Mandarin(MS) speaking group.
    • Some subjects showed substantial variability on repeated trials for the same L2 vowel.
    • Examination of individual patterns rather than group means may be necessary.
  • Despite the variability, limited group trends were identified:
    • Both the JS and MS groups tended to produce lax L2 vowels more like the tense L2 vowel counterpart. F2 was increased (tongue fronting) and F1 was lowered (tongue raising).
    • Both the JS and MS groups tended to produce [o] and [ah] with a reduced F2 and an increased F1. This suggests a tongue position that was backed and lowered relative to the English speakers.