Allophone Pronunciation by the English Second Language Speakers

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If English speakers can grasp clear learning of how to move the patterns of the targeted dialects to words that are not part of their training, then the learning process needs to involve representations that are more abstract than mere words. The extent to which English-speaking people exploit pre-existing phonetic patterns, despite learning, is always affected by whether they are native speakers or have learned the language over time.

For secondary speakers, it is possible that one’s native language and its patterns of pronunciation and articulation might severely affect their manner of speaking English, hence bringing forth diverse allophonic variations. However, plasticity in the form of dialect imitation has been noted in research studies though such tendencies only involve a small percentage of English speakers (German, Carlson & Pierrehumbert, 2013; Yavas, 2011). Either way, the focus of allophonic and phonemic variation is on the perceived similarities of the target dialect and the imitation of the same.

In a study by German, Carlson & Pierrehumbert (2013), it was noted that the production of /t/ based on acoustic examination of the speakers included a voiceless consonant; the alveolar consonants in the production were marked by evidence of closure, and a sub sequential voice onset delay. With the exclusion of the cases when the speakers intended to pronounce a different word, for instance, the mispronunciation of the word Thames, it appeared clear that the articulation of /t/ fell in between /t/ and /r/, thus providing evidence of the existence of phonetic variations of the minimal sounds. Only a few cases of the experimentations provided an acoustic range for /t/ with a clearly defined consonantal edge. Thus, it is factual that even the basic consonant sounds in English may be pronounced to sound differently depending on the speaker. These differences were also defined by diversities in the duration of voicing.

While the second-language acquisition of phonemes has been the subject of numerous studies over the past few decades, little attention has been given to mastering allophones. A successful acquisition of allophonic alternations is a critical step in acquiring proper, local-like phonetic output. Shea and Curtin (2011) cite abundant anecdotal support for the notion that allophone acquisition is a difficult task for second-language learners, and failure to master it leads to an ongoing foreign accent. Up to now, there have been few principled investigations of second-language allophone acquisition.

Contemporary models of foreign-language speech mastering, such as the version by Flege & Port R. (1981), make testable predictions with relation to phoneme acquisition. However, it is not clear what predictions this model makes for the recognition and production of foreign language allophones. Best argues that “the strong nature of allophone acquisition is due to several elements: the shortage of positive proof that there is one phoneme in the target language, the lack of proper feedback (producing the incorrect allophone in a given context is unlikely to cause misinterpretation at the side of the native speaker) and the complex distribution of allophones in the target language…” (Best, 1995).

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The study “Experience, Representations and the Production of Second Language Allophones,” by Christine E Shea and Suzanne Curtin, focuses on the effect of language experience on the production of allophones while speaking the second language. The paper addresses the conditions that cause allophonic alternation, and its findings illuminate the importance of allophones in second-language acquisition.

According to the two authors, “the use of these cues differs with experience; that is, learners with greater language experience exhibit cue use that is closer to the native speakers’ cue use’ (Shea & Curtin, 2011). Intermediate level learners may be using ‘a basic rule for producing the alternation, but… over time shift to a more nuanced production pattern. These results indicate that more experienced learners’ ability to use these phonetic cues in a native-like fashion emerges throughout allophone acquisition’ (Shea and Curtin, 2011).

The acquisition of English as a second language has been associated with the development of varied allophonic patterns in speech. Whereas native English speakers seem to pronounce words more accurately in patterns that relate to the American dialects, the non-native speakers because they often appear to speak English in a voice that links to their native dialect, pronounce words in patterns that are greatly diverse. Thus, these diversities are the interest in my thesis. While studying the phonological influence of phonetic change, Fruehwald (2013) focuses on the broad inquiry of how phonetics and phonology at large are related and specifically the changes in phonetic language. The study found out that there exists a great divergence in the phonology of language between people of different categories.

Opacity in the divergence of sound /ay/ was noted. According to the author, ‘This opacity represents an important endpoint for the process of /ay/ rising. If we were to assume that /ay/ rising began as a co-articulatory process, then there must be a point in its history when it became reanalyzed as a phonological process conditioned on the underlying voicing of the following segment.’ Therefore, this implies that there exist more foundational truths about /ay/ rising that need to be established before interest in the interaction of this variation with flapping can be looked into.

Accordingly, the consonant sounds that follow /ay/ immediately are a vital component in the determination of whether it rises or not. For instance, the author explains that there is a reduced tendency of the sound rising if it is followed immediately by sound /r/ in Philadelphia. In other dialects of the Northern America, /ay/ coming before /r/ still rises. Thus, ‘this difference is suggestive of the fact that pre-voiceless /ay/ raising is an endogenous change to Philadelphia, not a dialectal borrowing. The process of dialectal diffusion can lead to structural simplifications, but in this case, there is no independent historical reason to assume that /ay/ raising diffused from Northern dialects to Philadelphia, as there was for the diffusion of the New York City short-a system to Cincinnati and New Orleans.’ (Labov, cited ).

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