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The acquisition of English speech rhythm by adult Chinese ESL and EFL learners

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Item Summary

Title: The acquisition of English speech rhythm by adult Chinese ESL and EFL learners
Authors: Hua, Te-fang
Advisor: Peters, Ann M
Issue Date: Aug 2003
Publisher: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract: Mandarin Chinese speakers are frequently reported by ESL professionals to speak English in a syllable-timed rhythm. However, little empirical evidence is available to physically characterize their speech rhythm in English. In view of the paucity of information available on this issue, the current study compares speech samples of Taiwan Mandarin (TM) and English speakers with respect to their difficulties in producing English rhythm by analyzing three well-attested correlates of stress in English, duration, intensity, and pitch. The Participants in this study were 10 native speakers of English, 10 TM speakers learning English as a Second Language (ESL), and 10 TM speakers learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL). The subjects were requested to read two prosodically diverse sets of sentences, with Type A featuring a single strong syllable or two widely spaced strong syllables and Type B featuring a regular alternation between strong and weak syllables. The results showed that the TM ESL and EFL speakers experienced difficulties with Type A but not with Type B rhythm. For Type A sentences, the TM speakers produced relatively shorter, softer, and lower-pitched strong syllables and relatively longer, louder, and higher-pitched weak syllables than the English speakers. The combination leads to less duration, intensity, and pitch differentiation between the strong and the weak syllables. Additionally, the TM speakers produced fewer levels of stress than the English speakers did. Increased proficiency and exposure is correlated with positive changes in the use of duration, intensity, and pitch as correlates for stress. The current study strongly challenges using "syllable-timing" as a cover term in describing the speech rhythm of TM speakers because they were apparently able to manage at least one type of English stress-timing well. We propose multiple parameters under the traditional rhythmical category "stress-timing" by building in possible language-specific variations as to the number of unstressed syllables permitted within a foot and the number of prosodically weak syllables within a higher prosodic domain.
Description: xxiii, 334 leaves
Rights: All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections:Ph.D. - Linguistics

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