Variability in interlanguage phonology of Malaysian learners of English
This study is a synchronic investigation of variability in interlanguage phonology of Malaysian learners of English. The study investigates patterns of style shifting in the speech performance of the Malaysian learners of English as they vary according to various stylistic environments i.e. verbal tasks viz, minimal pairs reading, word list reading, dialogue reading and free conversation representing different contexts of situation ranging from the most formal to the most casual form of speech styles. The main objective of this thesis is to establish patterns of style stratification in the speech production of the subjects and to trace whether there exists any systematic patterning in the subjects' pronunciation of the target English sounds of both the individual subjects and across the group of subjects who come from different ethnolinguistic backgrounds. This study is also undertaken in order to determine the extent to which Labovian 'attention to speech' may be used as a causal explanation for variability in the speech production of the subjects. This study is adapted from the variability model developed by William Labov (1970) and extended by Lorna Dickerson (1974) in her interlanguage investigation of Japanese learners of English for showing stylistic variation of speakers at a given point in time (synchronic variation) with the use of a single linear scale as a method of data analysis. An experimental investigation involving an interview method with the individual subjects, using four-part, Labov-style, self-administered tests were carried out at the University of Science, Malaysia. The results of this study showthat there is phonological variation in the subjects' performance of all the phonemes under investigation and this variation seems to be systematic in nature. The speech performance of the Malaysian subjects in this study is responsive to the nature of the verbal tasks they are engaged in and in their production of most of the target English phonemes they produced the predicted ranking of style shifting according to the Labovian 'attention to speech' hypothesis. According to the hypothesis the subjects' speech performance should record the highest index score in the task which requires the greatest attention to be paid to the speech (minimal pairs reading) with the lowest index score in the tasks which has the least attention (free conversation). As the results reveal, in most cases the subjects record the highest index scores in the reading of minimal pairs. This is followed by word list reading, then dialogue reading and finally free conversation which records the lowest index scores of all. However, the only exception to this regular patterning is in the subjects' performance of phonemes /v/ and in where it may be due to factors such as phonological transfer from Bahasa Malaysia (for phoneme Id) or inadequate data for comparison (for phoneme /v/ as well as phonemes /p/, /b/ and /g/ in free conversation) . The results of statistical analysis using a Repeated Measurement of Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) indicate that there is significant difference in the performance of the subjects across the four verbal tasks with the reading of minimal pairs the highest in the rank, followed by word list reading then dialogue reading and finally free conversation, the lowest in the rank. The results of this study suggest that 'attention to speech' could be used to account for variability in the subjects' speech performance of most of the TL phonemes under investigation across the four different verbal tasks. However, it cannot adequately explain variability in the subjects' performance of the TL phoneme /r/. The results also suggest that though the subjects' speech performance is also sensitive to the position of phonemes in the words (i.e. word initial, medial or final), their production of those phonemes seems to be governed by the nature of the verbal tasks they are engaged in. As regards the group performance according to subjects' ethnolinguistic backgrounds, the results reveal that in most cases there is no significant difference in the performance of the subjects who come from different ethnolinguistic groups viz. Malay, Chinese and Indian. This is supported by statistical results which indicate no significant difference in the performance of the subjects according to groups with the exception of subjects performance of /0/ and /g/ where in their production of the target phoneme /0/, subjects who come from a Malay background records the highest mean scores followed by subjects who come from a Chinese background and finally those who come from an Indian background. As regards, phoneme /g/, the results suggest that subjects from a Chinese background record the lowest mean scores of all.