Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

The Impact of L1 Negative Phonological Transfer on L2 Word Identification and Production

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

The Impact of L1 Negative Phonological Transfer on L2 Word Identification and Production

Article excerpt


30 intermediate Chinese English learners participated in two experiments which address the issue of first language negative phonological transfer on second language word identification and production. In Experiment 1, the subjects performed an auditory priming task. In Experiment 2, the subjects completed a pronunciation task, in which they were asked to read words containing "th" and some filler words. Results showed that the subjects assimilated the English phonemes /s/, /θ/ and /d/, /ð/ into the Chinese phonemic categories of (s) and (d) respectively and used (s) and (d) to substitute /s/, /θ/ and /d/, /ð/ in word identification and production. The result partly confirmed the Speech Learning Model and the abstractionist model of speech perception and the researchers argued that the negative phonological transfer resulted in false phonological representations of L2 words in the learners' mental lexicon.

Keywords: Phonological negative transfer, L2 word identification, Phonemic substitution, Phonological representation

1. Introduction

When acquiring the LI (first language), children identify phonemes and extract phonotactic regularities from the speech signals they are exposed to. To L21 2 (second language) learners, the learning of the L2 sounds is likely to be influenced by the LI phonetic system, and especially when some L2 phonemes do not exist in learners' LI, the LI phonological system would function like a sieve subjecting the L2 phonemes to adapting to its structure (Sebastian-Galles et al, 2005). Therefore, L2 learners tend to assimilate those L2 phonemes into their LI phonemic categories (Pallier et al, 2001). For example, it is well documented that Japanese English learners substitute the English /r/ and /!/ with the Japanese /!/ (Hattori & Iverson, 2009). This phenomenon, termed as negative phonological transfer, may not only cause L2 learners to have difficulties in L2 word identification and production, but also result in foreign accent as well.

To L2 learners, or even to those who have sufficient exposure to the L2, correct identification and production of L2 phonemes constantly prove to be a problem (Flege et al, 1999). For example, the English phonemes /Θ/ and 10/ are not existent in many languages. Consequently they pose a great difficulty for L2 English learners. The two sounds are usually replaced by different phonemes by L2 learners with distinctive LI backgrounds. For instance, German and French English learners usually replace /Θ/ with /s/ (Brannen, 2002). Lambacher et al (1997) found that Japanese learners of English had considerable difficulty distinguishing /Θ/ and /s/ and they constantly assimilated /Θ/ into the phonetic category of /s/. Brown (2000) compared the acquisition of /Θ/ and 10/ by Chinese and Korean learners of English and found that they both substitute /Θ/ and löl with their LI phonemes (s) and (d). Other studies also provide support for this finding (e.g. Rau et al, 2009).

Previous studies mainly investigated whether negative LI phonological transfer occurs in L2 acquisition (e.g. Bohn & Best, 2012). The impact of LI negative phonological transfer on L2 word identification and production has received only limited attention, though the issue is of significance both theoretically and pedagogically. Theoretically, the study could provide experimental evidence to verify models of spoken word recognition and speech learning and contribute to our knowledge of the cognitive underpinnings of the negative phonological transfer. Pedagogically, the results could bear direct implications and suggestions for L2 phonetic and phonological teaching and learning so that L2 teachers could prioritize particular pronunciation activities to help the learners avoid the negative phonological transfer if they know whether negative phonological transfer merely results in articulatory simplification or a more serious problem, i.e. the construction of false phonological mental representations. …

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