Coarticulation in non-native speakers of English and French: An acoustic study

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This study investigates whether coarticulation, often in the past assumed to be universal and "non-linguistic", is learned by language learners. The study concerns C-to-V coarticulation, V-to-C coarticulation, and formant transition dynamics in CV syllables (C=coronal stop consonant, V=high back vowel) produced by English and French native speakers and by learners of English and French. As indices of the C-to-V and V-to-C coarticulation degree, absolute undershoot measurements were calculated by taking differences between the target F2 and the F2 in context. The F2 trajectory shapes were indexed by slope change values, which produced qualitatively different values between the trajectories characteristic of English and French. The findings suggest that the degree of coarticulation differed significantly across languages and that non-native learners showed signs of acquiring the patterns of coarticulation characteristic of the L2. The results also provide some evidence for acquisition of L2 patterns of coarticulation being a gradual process linked to amount of experience with L2. Early errors in non-native coarticulation appear to be the result of L1-to-L2 interference at the level of coarticulatory parameters, but learners gradually acquire native-like patterns of coarticulation. These observations of interference and gradualness of acquisition with experience are in accord with the general findings regarding the non-native acquisition of other phonetic details. Furthermore, the results suggest that the acquisition of coarticulation is not an automatic consequence of the acquisition of the phonological inventory. Learners do not appear to exploit any predictable relationship between the inventory size and the amount of coarticulation. They need to learn language-specific coarticulation, just as they need to learn other language-specific aspects of sound-patterning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-384
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2008


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