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The effect of age on the acquisition of second language prosody

From Language and Speech

This study tackles the controversial topic of age-related decline in second language attainment. It tested and surveyed three groups of Mandarin-speaking immigrants with varying Age on Arrival to the USA. A group of native speakers was also analyzed. The study provides evidence for an overall advantage in the early learning of a second language. This research found that group differences were statistically significant for speech rate, degree of foreign prosody, the frequency of pitch accents, and the frequency of high boundary tones. The results also suggest the prominent roles of media exposure and motivation in the ultimate outcomes of certain prosodic features.

Abstract

This study reports an exploratory analysis of the age of arrival (AoA) effect on the production of second language (L2) prosody. Three groups of Mandarin-speaking immigrants (N = 10 in each group) with varying AoA in the United States and ten native speakers of English as controls participated in the study. All participants read a paragraph of English, and their speech samples were subjected to three prosodic analyses: speech and articulation rates, native speakers’ judgment of the prosody based on segment-filtered speech, and analyses of tones and prosodic groupings using the Mainstream American English Tones and Break Indices (MAE_ToBI) transcription conventions. The L2 groups also filled out a survey providing information about their demographic background, English input, and socio-psychological aspects of language learning. The results revealed that the AoA factor impacted different aspects of prosody to varying degrees. Group differences were statistically significant for speech rate, degree of foreign prosody, the frequency of pitch accents, and the frequency of high boundary tones (H-H%). However, group differences were not significant for articulation rate, prosodic groupings, and the rest of the ToBI-labeled phonological categories. Multiple regression analyses further confirmed the AoA effect on degree of foreign prosody, the frequency of pitch accents, and high boundary tones (H-H%); AoA remained a significant predictor controlling for the effects of other variables. However, speech rate was predicted by English media exposure and motivation variable but not by AoA.

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Article details
Huang, B., & Jun, S. (2011). The Effect of Age on the Acquisition of Second Language Prosody Language and Speech, 54 (3), 387-414 DOI: 10.1177/0023830911402599Keywords

     
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