The production of vowel length contrasts in L1, L2 and L3
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AbstractThe study explores features of long and short vowel production in three languages of a trilingual group with L1 Cantonese, L2 English and L3 German. Long and short vowels are primarily distinguished by quality in English (Hillenbrand, Clark, & Houde, 2000), by duration in German (Ternes, 2012), and by both quality and duration in Cantonese (Lee, 1983). Phonologically, phonemic vowel length contrasts are more systematically used in German than in English and Cantonese. Except for schwa, all German vowels are neatly paired in length, whereas the English vowel length is dependent on accent and the phonemic status of Cantonese long and short vowels is still under debate. A study of this combination will be ideal to explore transfer factors in multilingual language acquisition.

15 trilingual subjects and 10 bilingual controls were recorded reading three randomized repetitions of long and short vowel minimal pairs in all of their languages (e.g. L1 CA: 卡-咳, L2 EN: peak-pick, L3 GE: Polen-Pollen). Both groups were native Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong who were proficient in L2 English, while the trilinguals were additionally taking intermediate German class. Trilinguals and bilinguals did not differ significantly in their L2 proficiencies measured in IELTS scores. The analyses included 1466 tokens containing six Cantonese vowels (/ɛ:-e/, /ɔ:-o/, /a:-ɐ/), six L2 English vowels (/iː-ɪ/, /ɔ:-ɒ/, /ɑ:-ʌ/) and fourteen L3 German vowels (/i:-ɪ/, /y:-ʏ/, /u:-ʊ/, /e:-ɛ/, /ø:-œ/, /o:-ɔ/, /a:-a/).

By comparing the Euclidean Distance (ED) between the first and second formants and the Duration Difference (DD) of each long and short vowel pair in L1, L2 and L3, the following findings were obtained: 1) Trilinguals producing larger contrasts in L3 were also those producing larger contrasts in their L1 and L2, in support of a positive transfer from L1 and L2 to L3. 2) In L2 production, trilinguals had larger DD but not ED than bilinguals. Since duration is the major cue in German, a backward transfer from L3 to L2 was supported. 3) L3 performance was dependent on vowel types. The high unrounded vowel pairs /i:-ɪ/ and /e:-ɛ/ were most clearly distinguished in both DD and ED, but this could not be explained by transfer, as the same vowels were not realized this way in L1 and L2 productions. These findings collectively suggest that the complexity of multilingual speech production can be attributed to both bidirectional transfers and the intrinsic features of specific phonetic categories.
Acceptance Date28/02/2017
All Author(s) ListYanjiao ZHU, Jingxin LUO, Peggy Pik Ki MOK
Name of ConferenceInternational Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech 2017 (ISMBS 2017)
Start Date of Conference04/09/2017
End Date of Conference07/09/2017
Place of ConferenceChania
Country/Region of ConferenceGreece
Year2017
LanguagesEnglish-United States
Keywordsvowel length, multilingual, production, transfer

Last updated on 2018-06-12 at 10:49