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Chinese Learners’ Acquisition of English (th): A study of interlanguage variation . D. Victoria Rau Providence University, Taiwan . Acknowledgements. NSC Visiting Scholar Grant (41169F)

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chinese learners acquisition of english th a study of interlanguage variation

Chinese Learners’ Acquisition of English (th): A study of interlanguage variation

D. Victoria Rau

Providence University, Taiwan

acknowledgements
Acknowledgements
  • NSC Visiting Scholar Grant (41169F)
  • NSC Project: “Style, Proficiency, and Attitude in Acquisition of Phonology by Chinese Learners of English” (92-2411-H-126-002)
  • CTLS, University of Minnesota
  • CARLA, Prof. Elaine Tarone, co-author
slide3

To (th)ink or not to (s)ink, that is a question!

  • f/θ is the most difficult contrast to discriminate; mastered fairly late by English-speaking children (Velleman 1988, Vihman 1996)
  • Let’s tink about dat: interdental fricative in Cajun English (Dubois & Horvath 1999)
have you noticed
Have you noticed…?
  • Voiceless interdental fricative in English has a demonstrated language variation pattern in both L1 and L2 speakers
  • Thai, Russian, and Hungarian speakers are reported to replace [θ] with [t], while Japanese, Korean, German, and Egyptian Arabic L1 speakers tend to substitute [s] for the target sound (ranking of markedness and faithfulness, Lombardi 2003)
  • L1 substitution of (th) in European French is [s] while that in Quebec French is [t] (Brannen 2002)
how would chinese english learners solve the pronunciation problem to think or to sink
How would Chinese English learners solve the pronunciation problem? To think or to sink?
  • The transfer variant for production of English [θ] is [f] by Hong Kong Chinese, [t] by Malaysia/Singapore Chinese, but [s] by Chinese in Taiwan (Peust 1996)
  • Among the Cantonese speaking Chinese children growing up in Canada, the substitution errors in spelling (th) are predominantly /s/ or /z/, rather than /f/ (Wang & Geva 2003)
  • L1 group does not use a fixed variant categorically to substitute for the target variant
how do you investigate interlanguage variation
How do you investigate interlanguage variation?
  • R. Bayley & D. R. Preston (Eds.) (1996), Second Language Acquisition and Linguistic Variation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins
  • VARBRUL program (Robinson, Lawrence & Tagliamonte 2001, Paolillo 2002)
  • Measure the effects of many independent variables on a dichotomous linguistic variable
question one
Question One
  • Do learners of English from Mainland China and from Hong Kong/Macau have different attitudes about the most acceptable substitutes for the voiceless interdental fricative [θ] Do their attitudes match their linguistic behavior when they use substitutes for [θ]?
question two
Question Two
  • What linguistic and social factors favor accurate production of the English [θ] by Chinese learners? Do these factors differ for speakers from Mainland China or Hong Kong/Macau?
question three
Question Three
  • Can the phonological environments of [θ] be ordered in terms of their difficulty for Chinese learners of English? Is this order the same for learners from Mainland China and from Hong Kong/Macau?
question four
Question Four
  • Do the probability weights for linguistic and social factors promoting accurate production of English [θ] differ between different proficiency groups?
participants
Participants
  • 15 Chinese foreign students (Male = 10, Female = 5) from Mainland China and Hong Kong/Macau
  • Mostly graduate students in engineering (N= 8), science (N=4) and social sciences (N= 3)
  • Ages range from 20 to 35 with an average of 27
  • LOR in an English speaking country ranges from 3 months to 7 years with an average of less than 3 years
  • Most began learning English at the age of 12-13 (N= 10), while two began at 10-11, one at 7, and two at 5
tasks
Tasks
  • (1) read aloud a passage: The Three Little Pigs
  • (2) retell the story from the passage
  • (3) read aloud a word list containing words with (th)
  • (4) oral interview
dependent variable
Dependent Variable

FG1: Production of English (th)

  • 1= accurate production
  • 0= inaccurate production
independent variables internal factors
Independent Variables:Internal factors

FG2: Word position

  • 1= English (th) occurs in word-initial (e.g., think)
  • 2= English (th) occurs in word-final (e.g., teeth)
  • 3= English (th) occurs in media position (e.g., something)
slide15
FG3: Syllable stress

1= English (th) is at onset of a stressed syllable (e.g., third, think, theory, enthuse)

2= English (th) is in onset cluster of a stressed syllable (e.g., three) and an unstressed syllable (e.g., throughout)

3= English (th) is in complex coda of a stressed syllable (e.g., health)

4= English (th) is at simple coda of a stressed syllable (e.g., breath, teeth, earth, with)

5= English (th) is at coda of a stressed syllable (e.g., birthday)

6= English (th) is at onset of an unstressed syllable (e.g., nothing, theoretical, mathematics, enthusiastic)

7=English (th) is at coda of an unstressed syllable (e.g., Wordsworth)

fg4 vowel following an onset th
i=high front vowel (e.g., think, theory)

a= low front vowel (e.g., thank)

o= back mid round vowel (e.g., thought, diphthong)

r= mid central rotacized vowel (e.g., third), reduced vowel schwa (e.g., strengthen, Catholic, mathematics)

b= low back vowel (e.g., thunder)

d=diphthong (e.g., thousand)

1= high front vowel after consonant cluster thr (e.g., three)

2= high mid vowel after consonant cluster thr (e.g., threaten)

3= back vowel after consonant cluster thr (e.g., through, throw)

/ not applicable

FG4: Vowel following an onset (th)
fg5 vowel preceding a coda th
i= high front vowel (e.g., teeth)

e=mid front vowel (e.g., breath)

a= low front vowel (e.g., math)

u=high round vowel (e.g., youth, truth)

o= back mid round vowel (e.g., moth)

r= mid central rhotacized vowel (e.g., birthday)

d=diphthong (e.g., mouth)

/ = not applicable

FG5: Vowel preceding a coda (th)
fg6 consonant preceding a coda th
FG6: Consonant preceding a coda (th)
  • l= lC coda (e.g., wealth)
  • r= rC coda (e.g., north)
  • n= nC coda (e.g., strength, month)
  • f= fC coda (e.g., fifth)
  • / = not applicable
external factors
FG7: Production accuracy rate for (th)

h= high (above 90%)

m= mid (70-90%)

l= low (below 70%)

FG8: Oral proficiency levels

h= high (advanced-plus)

m= mid (advanced)

l= low (intermediate-high)

External factors
more external factors
FG9: Native language

m= Mandarin

c= Cantonese

FG10: Speech style

i= interview

w= word list

p= passage reading

r= story retelling

FG11: Age of acquisition of English

k= kindergarten

e=elementary school

m=middle school

FG12: Length of residence in an English speaking country

l= less than two years

2= 2-5 years

3= over 5 years

More External Factors
results
Results
  • H1: Learners of English from Mainland China and from Hong Kong/Macau will state they prefer different substitutes for [θ], and their speech performance will mirror their preferences.
  • H2: Accurate production of English [θ] by Chinese learners can be predicted by a combination of linguistic and social factors; there will be no difference in factors influencing the accuracy of production of learners from Mainland China or Hong Kong/Macau.
  • H3: The order of difficulty of phonological environments of [θ] for Chinese learners of English can be predicted based on VARBRUL probabilities, and this order will be the same for learners from Mainland China and from Hong Kong/Macau.
  • H4: The probability weights for the linguistic and social factors promoting accurate production of English [θ] will differ in different proficiency groups.
slide22

Acceptability Judgment Test

How acceptable do you feel it is to replace [θ] with [s] sound in a word, such as sree, heals, and somesing for three, health, and something, respectively?

1 – Perfectly Acceptable

2 – Moderately Acceptable

3 – Slightly Acceptable

4 – Neutral

5 – Slightly Unacceptable

6 – Moderately Unacceptable

7 – Completely Unacceptable

slide23

Please first rank the following five sounds, [s], [f], [t], [∫], and [θ], from 1 (most acceptable) to 5 (least acceptable).

[s]

[f]

[t]

[∫]

[θ] = 1

Then place the five sounds on the following chart in relation to one another, indicating how acceptable you feel each pronunciation is.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

1 Most Acceptable 5 Least Acceptable

[θ]

most acceptable substitutes
Mandarin group

[s] > [∫] > [t] > [f]

Cantonese group

[f] > [s]> [t] > [∫]

Most Acceptable Substitutes
slide25

Verbal reports of a Cantonese Speaker

“…I think probably also most challenging for normal Hong Kong people. I don’t know whether or not for all Cantonese speakers, because we are still different from Shenzhen or from Hong Kong. There is a very good term in basketball, that is, in basketball, if you have like a foul, something like that, you have free throw, ok. If you throw in the… that is, three point line, if you were fouled by beside the three point line, you have the three free throws. But at the beginning, many Hong Kong people before they come here, or actually if I’m tired or I’m not that concentrate, I just would say, “Fee fee fou. Fee fee fou.” Everything like that. And many Hong Kong people pronounce this (th) like this one [f]. But, I don’t know, for some Chinese, they use [s], I don’t know, it’s very strange to me. Yes, this is very challenging.”

slide26

Significant Factors

Following vowel VARBRUL weight

r: mid central vowel 0.646

o: mid back vowel 0.540

a: low front vowel 0.536

i: high front vowel 0.512

3: Consonant cluster with r followed by back vowel 0.478

2: Consonant cluster with r followed by front mid vowel 0.462

b: low central vowel 0.433

d: low central vowel, diphthong /aw/ 0.355

1: Consonant cluster with r followed by high front vowel 0.338

slide27

Preceding vowel VARBRUL weight

i: high front vowel 0.608

e: mid front vowel 0.579

r: mid central vowel 0.493

a: low front vowel 0.455

o: mid back vowel 0.415

u: high back vowel 0.356

d: back vowel, diphthong /aw/ 0.335

slide28

Speech styles VARBRUL weight

w: word list reading 0.615

p: passage reading 0.535

i: interview 0.423

r: story retelling 0.416

factors contributing to accurate production of th
Factors contributing to accurate production of (th)
  • (th) in syllable onset position is a much easier environment than (th) in syllable coda position
  • Front and mid vowels in the immediate environment of (th), either preceding or following, tend to facilitate accurate production of (th)
  • Speech styles follow a pattern similar to that reported in the literature
  • Linguistic factors are more important than social factors in influencing phonological variation (Preston 2000, 2002)
hierarchical order of phonological acquisition of th
Hierarchical order of phonological acquisition of (th)
  • (th) in the environment of a mid or front vowel is acquired earlier than that in the environment of a low or back vowel
  • Consonant cluster with (th) in the onset position is more difficult to acquire than simple onset with (th)
  • The following vowels after the consonant cluster thr- also demonstrate a hierarchy of acquisition: high mid vowel (threaten) < high or mid back vowel (through, throw) < high front vowel (three)
teaching syllabus
The top three environments (exemplified by the words third, teeth, and breath)

With a probability of accurate production above 0.80

The bottom four environments (exemplified by truth, thousand, three, and mouth)

With a probability of accurate production below 0.65

Teaching syllabus
comparison between high 75 vs low 75 accuracy groups
The mid central vowel (e.g., third) is the most favorable environment following [θ] for both groups.

We observed a mirror image between the two groups for the low front vowel (e.g., thank) and the high front vowel (e.g., wealthy, think). Whereas both environments were favorable for the low group, they were the lowest for the high group.

Comparison between high (>75%) vs. low (<75%) accuracy groups
slide33

Interviewer: What did you pronounce for the English [] sounds?

Participant 11: I have no trouble now. I used to. For example, thank you, I said sank you. I don’t know it’s wrong. It was wrong. But after they I met teacher there and corrected it, I oh thank you. Not sank. Yeah English teacher in Center for learning and teaching. Yeah. They didn’t tell me (in China).

slide34

Following vowel

Factor High group Low group

Mid central vowel 0.99 0.67

Back vowel & diphthong 0.93 0.51

Thr- + back vowel 0.92 0.56

Thr- + front mid vowel 0.89 0.58

Thr- + high front vowel 0.88 0.27

High front vowel 0.87 0.68

Low front vowel 0.83 0.73

slide35

Preceding vowel

Factor High group Low group

Mid front vowel 0.98 (NS) 0.59

Low round vowel 0.92 (NS) 0.47

Mid central vowel 0.91 (NS) 0.61

High front vowel 0.91 (NS) 0.78

Low front vowel 0.90 (NS) 0.56

Diphthong /aw/ 0.83 (NS) 0.36

High back vowel 0.78 (NS) 0.46

slide36

Speech style

Factor High group Low group

Word list reading 0.97 0.70

Passage reading 0.94 0.62

Story reading 0.86 0.53

Interview 0.76 0.58

slide37

Interviewer: Are there other sounds in English that are challenging?

Participant 13: Like thank you, like th like (th) and (s). This kind of…Sometimes I make some mistake on that. And…

Interviewer: When did you realize you made a mistake?

Participant 13: Every time. Actually [actuanny] I noticed [loticed] it in my high school. But you know in Chinese there is no such this this sound, so sometimes I just forgot to pronounce [prolounce] it correctly. Because you can look up the in the dictionary. They are different pronunciations. They are noted [loted] in a different way. So you know that it different. But sometimes you just forgot to say it.

is there a reliable test to determine oral proficiency
Is there a reliable test to determine oral proficiency?
  • TOEFL
  • ACTFL proficiency guidelines for speaking
  • Speaking Performance Scale for the UCLA Oral Proficiency Test for Non-native TAs (Celce-Murcia et al. 1996)
  • Percentages of accurate production of the target variant of (th)
conclusion
Conclusion
  • Potential and validity of the variation paradigm
  • Methodological strengths and constraints
  • Oral proficiency: unanswered problem
  • Acceptability Judgment Test: a useful tool to determine L2 speech community
slide41

References:

Bayley, R. and Preston, D. R. (Eds.) 1996. Second Language Acquisition and Linguistic Variation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Brannen, K. (2002). The role of perception in differential substitution. Canadian Journal of Linguistics 47(1/2): 1-46.

Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. M., and Goodwin J. M. (1996). Teaching Pronunciation: A Reference for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dubois, S. & Horvath, B. (1999). Let’s tink about dat: interdental fricative in Cajun English. Language Variation and Change 10: 245-261.

slide42

Lombardi, L. (2003). Second language data and constraints on manner: Explaining substitutions for the English interdentals. Second Language Research 19.3: 225-250.

Paolillo, J. (2002). Analyzing Linguistic Variation: Statistical Models and Methods. Stanford, CA: CSLI publications.

Peust, C. (1996). Sum: th-substitution. The Linguist List 7.1108.

http://linguistlist.org/issues/7/7-1108.html

Preston, D. R. (2000). Three kinds of sociolingusitics and SLA: A psycholinguistic perspective. In B. Swierzbin & F. Morris & M. Anderson & C. Klee & E. Tarone (Eds.), Social and Cognitive Factors in Second Language Acquisition: Selected Proceedings of the 1999 Second Language Research Form (pp. 3-30). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

slide43

Preston, D. R. (2002). A variationist perspective on SLA: Psycholinguistic concerns. In R. Kaplan (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics. 141-159. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Robinson, J. Lawrence H. & Tagliamonte, S. (2001). GOLDVARB 2001 [computer program]: A Multivariate analysis application for windows. York University.

Vihman, M. (1996). Phonological Development: The Origins of Language in the Child. Oxford: Blackwell Press.

Velleman, S. (1988). The role of linguistic perception in later phonological development. Applied Psycholinguistics 9: 221-236.

Wang, M. & Geva, E. (2003). Spelling acquisition of novel English phonemes in Chinese children. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 16: 325-348.