The feature hypothesis applied to the acquisition of Swedish quantity  

Robert McAllister

To appear in the Proceedings of New Sounds 2000, Amsterdam, 4-9 September 2000.

ABSTRACT

This work addressed the issue of the influence of L1 phonology on the acquisition of contrastive L2 categories. The purpose of the experiments reported here has been to test a hypothesis which holds that an L2 contrastive category will be difficult to acquire if it is based on a phonetic feature not exploited in the L1. 20 native speakers each of American English, Latin American Spanish and Estonian, whose respective phonologies display three degrees of overall prominence of the duration feature, participated in the experiments. These experienced subjects (ten years of L2 experience) were given a production and perception test to assess their mastery of the Swedish quantity contrast. In a follow up experiment, relatively inexperienced L2 users of Swedish with the same L1 were given production and perception tests identical to those given to the experienced subjects. Our results support the feature hypothesis in that these subjects’ success in learning the Swedish quantity contrast seems to be related to the roll of the duration feature in the L1. An L1 group average difference of at least ten years of experience with the language (measured as length of residence) did not seem to markedly effect success in learning this contrast.


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