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Book: Phonology in Protolanguage and Interlanguage

Chapter: 8. Identification and Discrimination of Initial Voiceless Stops by Catalan and Portuguese Learners of English: The Role of Formal Instruction and L2 Exposure

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.31678


Due to the interplay of several factors, including L1 attunement and L2 experience (understood as length of formal instruction), native speakers of Romance languages who learn English as a second language (L2) encounter certain difficulty when perceiving English voiceless stops (Alves & Zimmer 2015; Flege, Munro & MacKay 1995; Fullana & MacKay 2008). The purpose of this study was to further investigate the role of formal instruction and to evaluate the effect of language exposure (i.e. amount of outside classroom L2 input) on the non-native perception of the English voiceless stops /p, t, k/ by Portuguese and Catalan learners of English. A total of 63 learners of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) were divided into three experimental groups (an advanced group, differing in their L1, and two upper-intermediate groups) and were asked to identify and discriminate naturally produced tokens contrasting word-initial voiceless aspirated and unaspirated stops. Results show that the advanced group of Portuguese EFL learners outperformed the upper-intermediate Portuguese learners when discriminating and identifying the target stops. This finding seems to indicate that length of formal instruction has a positive effect on the perception of non-native allophonic contrasts. Furthermore, the comparison between the performance of the two upper-intermediate groups revealed that despite the comparable VOT patterns in both languages, the upper-intermediate Portuguese perceivers outperformed the Catalans, which may be accounted by the effect of a greater outside classroom L2 exposure. These outcomes suggest that L2 formal instruction and L2 exposure play an important role on the perception of a non-native allophonic contrast.

Chapter Contributors

  • Angelica Carlet ( - acarlet) 'Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona'
  • Anabela Rato ( - arato) 'University of Toronto'