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Title: The role of imitation in learning to pronounce
Author: Messum, Piers Ruston
ISNI:       0000 0001 3395 4888
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2008
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Timing patterns and the qualities of speech sounds are two important aspects of pronunciation. It is generally believed that imitation from adult models is the mechanism by which a child replicates them. However, this account is unsatisfactory, both for theoretical reasons and because it leaves the developmental data difficult to explain. I describe two alternative mechanisms. The first explains some timing patterns (vowel length changes, 'rhythm', etc.) as emerging because a child's production apparatus is small, immature and still being trained. As a result, both the aerodynamics of his speech and his style of speech breathing differ markedly from the adult model. Under their constraints the child modifies his segmental output in various ways which have effects on speech timing but these effects are epiphenomenal rather than the result of being modelled directly. The second mechanism accounts for how children learn to pronounce speech sounds. The common, but actually problematic, assumption is that a child does this by judging the similarity between his own and others' output, and adjusting his production accordingly. Instead, I propose a role for the typical vocal interaction of early childhood where a mother reformulates ('imitates') her child's output, reflecting back the linguistic intentions she imputes to him. From this expert, adult judgment of either similarity or functional equivalence, the child can determine correspondences between his production and adult output. This learning process is more complex than simple imitation but generates the most natural of forms for the underlying representation of speech sounds. As a result, some longstanding problems in speech can be resolved and an integrated developmental account of production and perception emerges. Pronunciation is generally taught on the basis that imitation is the natural mechanism for its acquisition. If this is incorrect, then alternative methods should give better results than achieved at present.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available