Cross-linguistic influence in L2 phonological production and L2 input as a predictor of success
Michigan State University
It is common for an L2 learner to attain a native-like command of the respective L2 syntax and semantics, but not attain the same competence in phonology. L2 learners experience problems in producing L2 phones, despite whether or not those sounds are similar or dissimilar to their native language. Evidencing this fact are multiple studies related to voice-onset times, spirantization, and the cognate effect. The absence of the creation of new phonological categories in learners’ interlanguage and the influence of learners’ L1 rules to override L2 rules are also representative of cross-linguistic influence. Providing sufficient L2 input is explored as a solution to problem of L1 interference.
Key words: L2 phonology, spirantization, voice-onset times, interlangauge, pronounciation
In the context of second language acquisition, the role of a learner’s native language, whether positive or negative, cannot be ignored. The area of L2 phonological production especially exemplifies these cross-linguistic influences, as they occur more frequently in phonology than in other domains of language. It is common that an L2 speaker may attain a native-like command of the respective L2 syntax and semantics, but not attain the same competence in phonology. L2 learners will experience problems in producing L2 phones, whether similar or dissimilar to their native language, due to the influence of their L1, but may be able to overcome such difficulties if provided with sufficient L2 input.
Interference in second language acquisition most often results from a tendency of L2 speakers to transfer the rules of their native language to the second language. In the case of phonology, these already acquired language systems often prevent learners from obtaining the ability to produce native-like phones when they are contrastively different. In Bada (2001), Japanese-speaking learners of English encountered great difficulty when attempting to produce English consonants. The Japanese sound system exhibits much higher rates of predictability than does the English sound system. Because of the diversity of the English sound system and the unpredictability of the pronunciations of the same character in various words, native-like pronunciation proved problematic for learners. The inability to produce native-like phones by L2 English learners due to the contrastive nature of both languages’ sound systems reveals strong L1 influences on pronunciation.
Likewise, native English-speaking learners of Spanish observed difficulties in acquiring the Spanish phonemes / b d g / because the production of these phonemes in the two languages is markedly different. In Spanish, they are spirantized, either resulting in stop or fricative pronunciations, depending on the context in which they are employed. However, the respective English phonemes almost always exhibit stop pronunciations, except for some casual speech. As documented in Zampini (1994), native language influence impedes the acquisition of these particular Spanish phonemes by native speakers of English because of their contrastive behavior in both languages. This area of difficulty for learners exemplifies the prominent role that a learner’s native language plays in the acquisition of some phonological sounds.
Additionally, most studies on L2 Spanish voice-onset times (VOT) production have shown that competing influence from a learner’s native language often compromises their production of Spanish voiceless stops, with even bilingual learners experiencing difficulties (Zampini, 2010). It was evidenced by research that voice onset times diverge more when learners produce cognates than when those same learners produce non-cognates. While more research needs to be completed regarding the specific causational factors, it does suggest that L2 learners’ systems are being influenced by those of their native language in some capacity.
A study done by Amengual (2011) also found more divergent VOT values in cognates produced by Spanish-speaking learners of English when compared with VOT values of non-cognate words. As such, it can be asserted that the status of a word as a cognate has a significant impact on the ability of an L2 learner to phonologically match the correct sounds. Cross-linguistic influences such as the cognate effect provide evidence that significant interference in phonological production can be attributed to the native language.
While phonemes that are contrastively different between the native and second languages consistently produce areas of difficulty for learners, phonemes that are similar also are a source of error. James Flege’s Speech Learning Model suggests that L1 and L2 sounds which are similar or equivalent are more difficult to acquire because learners may not perceive the difference. A new phonetic category will not be developed for those particular L2 sounds that do not significantly differ from sounds produced in the L1 (Gass, Behney, & Plonsky, 2013). For example, native-speaking English learners of Spanish often produce the English long-lag phones / p t k / rather than the Spanish voiceless stops for those phones (Zampini. 2010). Other studies have shown that learn L2 learners of English who fail to produce English stops with native-like proficiency, usually produce compromised VOT values (Thornburgh & Ryalls, 1998). In these cases, the native language prevents learners from producing the correct phonological sounds, thus demonstrating another strong area of cross-linguistic influence.
Exemplifying this point, a study conducted by Vokic (2010) discussed in great lengths the L1 influence on L2 speech production with the expectation of determining if L2 learners would be able to access their phonological knowledge to help them achieve more native-like proficiency in their L2 pronunciation. It was determined that acoustically identical sounds (a phoneme in the L1 and an allophone in the L2) produced problems for learners, particularly because their L1 phonological rules often overrode the rules of the L2. Most studies on L2 Spanish VOT production have shown that competing influence from a learner’s native language often compromises their production of Spanish voiceless stops, with even bilingual learners experiencing difficulties (Zampini, 2010). This suggests that a learner’ native language still holds a great deal of influence over the L2 learner, despite the two languages sharing the same sounds.
It is clear, then, that cross-linguistic influence profoundly affects the way in which L2 learners produce oral speech, despite sounds being either similar or dissimilar. As such, there is a need to determine various ways to minimize native language influence. A natural progression would be to begin language study at a younger age (Bongaerts, van Summeren, Planken, & Schils, 1997). However, there is evidence that demonstrate that the length of residence or study can impact pronunciation even more profoundly than the age at which L2 study began. In a study conducted by Fledge et al. (2006), length of residence was found to be much more impactful on L2 pronunciation than even age. In particular, Korean speaking children and adults learning English were found to have more native-like pronunciation the longer they had been residing in North America. Length of residence was a better indicator than age, most likely due to the greater amount of L2 input received over that period of time.
Similarly, Diaz-Campos (2004), found that students with more than six years of language instruction were able to produce L2 phones with greater native-likeness, whereas students with six years or less of instruction were not able to produce native-like phones. Again, the amount of language input is integral in perfecting the pronunciation of an L2. In other words, if L2 learners receive enough input in their L2, among other factors, native-like pronunciation in the L2 is possible (Bongaerts, et al., 1997). As such, a learner’s age should not be the primary focus. Rather, factors such as instruction and length of residence should be emphasized, as they are better indicators of a learner’s ability to achieve more native-like pronunciation.
In conclusion, it is common for an L2 learner to attain a native-like command of the respective L2 syntax and semantics, but not attain the same competence in phonology. L2 learners will experience problems in producing L2 phones, despite whether or not those sounds are similar or dissimilar to their native language. This is primarily due to the influence of L2 rules being overridden by their L1 and by new phonological categories not created in the learner’s interlanguage. However, it may be possible to overcome such difficulties if provided with sufficient L2 input, such as a long period of residence or large amounts of L2 instruction.
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