Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Some Remarks on Stylistic Shifts in Interlanguage Speech: The Case of 'Reading' and 'Speaking' Errors. (Linguistics)

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Some Remarks on Stylistic Shifts in Interlanguage Speech: The Case of 'Reading' and 'Speaking' Errors. (Linguistics)

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

It is a widely accepted view in the area of second language acquisition that the L2 learner's interlanguage has the status of a linguistic system in its own right. Hence, it is characterised by features shared by all natural languages and, most importantly, by variability. Variability in interlanguage (IL) can be roughly defined as varying degrees of accuracy (relative to the relevant target language (TL) norm) in the learner's IL performance, or as diversity of non-TL forms (i.e. IL variants of TL targets) attested in IL production data. (1) The factors underlying IL variation are manifold in their nature and do not always lend themselves to straightforward classification and labelling. A specific issue that has frequently been addressed for the past three decades is if, and how, the learner's L2 performance varies systematically in stylistic shifts.

The notion of IL stylistic variation draws upon the foundations of the Labovian sociolinguistic paradigm, particularly his 'Observer's Paradox' (e.g. Labov 1970, 1972), the claim being that every speaker style-shifts in terms of linguistic (e.g. phonetic) parameters as the speech situation changes, and "styles can be ranged along a single dimension, measured by the amount of attention paid to speech" (Labov 1972: 208, original italics). The amount of attention paid to language form is assumed to be in direct proportion to the level of formality characterising the situation in which IL performance takes place, and, as stated by Major (1994: 190), "[a]ll other things being equal, the more formal the style, the more target-like the production". (2) The variable level of formality of style is concretised as a function of the variable experimental task in which IL production is elicited, with the tasks usually arranged on a scale ranging from free speech (least formal) through text reading, sentence reading, word list reading, to grammatical judgements (most formal) (e.g. Tarone 1983). The evidence to support the claim that free oral production indeed evidences less target-like variants and more native language (NL) interference than, e.g. text reading comes from a number of studies, such as Dickerson (1975), Tarone (1979), Major (1987) (see also Preston (1996) for a state-of-the-art statement on the variationist paradigm in Second Language Acquistion (SLA)).

The present paper, however, attempts to cast some doubt on the applicability of the stylistic variation paradigm, at least in the shape outlined above, to the context of second language production. It also reports on two studies examining the L2 pronunciation in Polish students of English. The first experiment aimed to assess the extent to which the subjects' IL production accuracy varied in two elicitation tasks, i.e. free speech and text reading. The second study involved impressionistic evaluation of the degree of foreign accent evident in those "reading" and "speaking" productions, with a view to determining if the IL speech generated in the former context did indeed give less of an impression of a foreign accent.

2. Study 1: the errors

2.1. Subjects

The subjects were 13 first-year students at the School of English (English philology), Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland. They were aged between 18 and 21 and all had been learning English in the classroom setting, for about 6 years.

2.2. Methods

The data were collected in two elicitation tasks, i.e. text reading and free oral production. On the former occasion, the students read short passages from one of their English textbooks (250 words, on average). As for the spoken part, the subjects were asked to talk for a while about their overall impressions concerning their first year at university, which was slowly coming to an end at the time of the recording session. (3)

The recordings were transcribed phonetically by the present author, who relied primarily on auditory impressions, aided by some acoustic analyses conducted on digitised data, with the help of the Waves+ package. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.