L2 Acquisition of Phonology

SLA Topics  Vivian Cook SLL and LT

useful links: 
- Speech Accent Archive (80 foreign accents of English) 
- a clickable IPA chart 

- an IPA chart for English


Examples of Research


Wieden, W. & Nemser, W. (1991), The Pronunciation of English in Austria, Gunter Narr, Tubingen

Ss: 384 Austrian school children in grades 3-11 (two classes in four regions at each age

Results: a difference between sounds that the learners gradually improved on and sounds for which they showed no progress. /‘u/ in ‘boat’ only 55 per cent correctly by beginners but improved over time till 100% after eight years; /‘/ in ‘finger’, however, no improvement after eight year. The learners learnt 'fortis' /p/ versus ‘lenis’ /b/. only gradually, Austrian German having no such distinction.
Stages in acquisition of phonemes

1. Presystemic. At this stage learners learn the sounds in individual words but without any overall pattern.
2. Transfer. Now the learners start to treat the second language sounds systematically as equivalent to the sounds of their first language.
3. Approximative. Finally the learners realise their native sounds are not adequate and attempt to restructure the L2 sounds in a new system.

Major, R. 1992 "Transfer and developmental factors in second language acquisition of consonant clusters", in: J. Leather & A. James (eds.), New Sounds 90 128-136.

Aim: to test the claims of the ontogeny model that 'transfer processes decrease over time, while developmental processes increase and then decrease', plus differences of 'style'

Ss: 4 NSs of Brazilian Portuguese learning English for 40 hours a week

Method: hearing them reading word list, plus recorded conversation, 3 samples 4 weeks apart

Materials: many English consonant clusters do not exist in Portuguese, e.g. initial CC /sl sr sp st sk pr br tr dr kr gr/ and many final clusters.

Scoring :
T (transfer), [i] insertion as in[i]spy for spy; voicing [z]lap for slap
D (developmental substitution), [wr] for r; schwa (‘ ) insertion
C correct (=native-like)


'the number of correct or target-like utterances increases over time, transfer decreases and there seems very little change for developmental substitutions'

Major Figure


how important is transfer from L1 to L2?
do people develop phonology as they do grammar?
how does L2 affect L1?

Cook’s Instant Accent Test For Consonants

Ioup, G. & Weinberger, S.H. (eds.) (1987), Interlanguage Phonology, Newbury House;
James, A. (1996), ‘Second language phonology’, in Jordens, P. & Lalleman, J., (eds) Investigating Second Language Acquisition, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, 167-186

Tongue Twisters