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Title: Perceptual representations in Interlanguage Phonology : subcategorial learning in late-learners with a smaller vowel inventory
Author: Barrientos Contreras, Fernanda
ISNI:       0000 0004 7429 7580
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2018
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In this thesis I explore the phonological nature of newly acquired perceptual representations by highly proficient late-learners of English whose L1 is Spanish, specifically in the case where two different L2 sounds are being initially mapped onto the same L1 category. I claim that these perceptual representations are not phonemic; rather, what these learners acquire are phonetic representations that can be discriminable under certain conditions in a manner similar to that of native speakers, but that are nevertheless identified as tokens of the same L1 category. Since speech perception is a categorisation process where the acoustic input is mapped onto the existing phonemic categories, then late-learners will use their L1 representations when perceiving acoustic input; and will therefore have no need to create new perceptual categories. An alternative hypothesis holds that late-learners can bootstrap new perceptual categories by means of UG access, which allows them to bypass the default categorisation process and notice the difference between their L1 categories and the actual L2 input, so that new perceptual categories can be created. This thesis focuses on the acquisition of the perceptual contrast between the open-mid back unrounded vowel /2/ and the low back unrounded vowel /A/, both of which are mapped onto the same L1 perceptual category /a/. Two experiments were conducted. Subjects were divided in three groups: one of native speakers (NS), a group of highly proficient nonnative speakers of English with Spanish as L1 (NNS-A), and a group of L1 Spanish speakers who were nonproficient in English (NNS-B). The experiments included identification, discrimination and rating tasks along synthesised /A - 2/ vowel continua (7-step and 5-step). The results showed that unlike the NS group, both groups of nonnative speakers categorised the tokens along the /2 - A/ continuum randomly when using L2-like labels; and showing a strong preference towards /a/ when using L1-like labels. Discrimination, on the other hand, differed according to the task: discrimination of adjacent tokens yielded similar results across the three groups, but nonadjacent tokens showed that the NNS-A group is more sensitive than the NNS-B group and less sensitive than the NS group. Finally, prototypicality ratings showed that while NS considered the endpoints of the continuum as good exemplars of the categories /A/ and /2/, both groups of nonnative speakers rated all tokens along the continuum as equally good instances of /a/. From these results I conclude that while late-learners of L2 English do not create new phonemic categories for /A/ and /2/, they are able to perceive a difference that nevertheless does not seem to be enough to create a category split. These findings have implications for a theory of learnability in SLA, since it suggests that latelearners have partial access to UG insofar as input alone leads to learning within the phonetic domain but not to creation of new phonemic categories.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Speech perception ; Second Language Acquisition ; L2 phonology ; Perceptual representations