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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of linguistic context in interlanguage phonology Cansin, Guzide Dilek


The phenomenon of the foreign accent has long been of interest to linguists, second language teachers, language pathologists, and others. This study investigated the influence of certain factors on the degree of foreign accent in learners of English as a second language. Specifically, it examined the effects of two linguistic contexts, age of arrival in Canada, years spent in Canada, and native language on the accents of 29 subjects at an advaced level of English language study. The degree of accent was rated on a five-point scale by 13 native speaker judges. It was hypothesized that non-native speakers of English would exhibit greater degree of foreign accent when reading aloud than when recalling a traumatic personal experience. A previous study by Oyama (1982) has found that, contarary to predictions based on native speakers' behaviour in the same task (Labov, 1966), foreign learners of English displayed greater accents during the oral reading task than when telling about a brush with death or about another traumatic time in their lives. It was, therefore, hypothesized that the subjects in this study would perform like the subjects in Oyama's study. The other hypotheses were: 1) the earlier the age at which subjects arrived in Canada, or other English-speaking country, and began learning English, the better their accents would be judged; 2) the greater the number of years spent in Canada, or other English-speaking country, the better their accents would be judged; 3) the native languages of ESL speakers would influence the decisions about the degree of foreign accent made by judges. Taped samples from 29 ESL learners were collected, edited for length, and played to 13 native speaking judges who rated the degree of accent for each speaker heard on a five-point scale. Included on the tape which the judges heard were samples from native speakers to determine intrajudge validity (i.e., how effectively the pronunciation measure differentiated native from non-ntive speakers). Those judges who were unable to identify the speech of native speakers were dropped from the study. Previous researchers have used the mode of the judges' decisions as the appropriate indicator of each subject's accent; in this study, computations were made using both the mode and the mean. They were found to yield nearly identical results in the analyses. Data were analyzed using a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA, SPSS X) with the two linguistic contexts as the dependent variables and age of arrival, years in Canada and native language as independent variables. The results showed no difference between the two linguistic contexts, and that age of arrival and native language contributed significantly to the degree of foreign accent while years in Canada did not. Specifically, learners who arrived at a younger age had better accents than those who arrived at an older age. Because subjects were unequally distributed across the languages, it was not possible to determine which native languages are statistically significant in predicting the degree of foreign accent of these learners of English.

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