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Title The Role of Secondary-stressed and Unstressed-unreduced Syllables in Word Recognition: Acoustic and Perceptual Studies with Russian Learners of English
Publication Date
Degree PhD
Discipline/Department Communication Disorders
Degree Level doctoral
University/Publisher Bowling Green State University
Abstract Identifying those phonological factors that native listeners rely on most when perceiving non-native speech is critical for setting priorities in pronunciation instruction. The importance of accurate lexical stress production, particularly primary stress, has been explored. However, little is known about the role of Secondary-stressed (SS) syllables and Unstressed-unreduced (UU) syllables, and the importance of their accuracy for speech perception. These questions are of relevance for Russian learners of English, who often reduce English SS and UU vowels—a phenomenon which is arguably due to the fact that only one stressed syllable per word is allowed in Russian phonology. Moreover, second language research has not addressed the issue of vowel over-reduction, which is a pattern typical of Russian learners. Low-accuracy productions of SS and UU syllables are generally not expected to lead to unintelligibility; however, they might interfere with the ease and accuracy with which speech is perceived. An acoustic study first compared realization of SS and UU syllables in words produced in isolation by six Russian learners of English and six native English speakers. Words were selected to contain low vowels and specific UU and SS syllable positions to optimally reflect vowel reduction by Russian speakers. Acoustic analyses revealed significant vowel quality and duration reductions in Russian-spoken SS and UU vowels, which were only half the duration of native English productions and significantly centralized. A subsequent psycholinguistic perceptual study investigated the degree of interference that inaccurate productions of SS and UU syllables have on native listeners’ speech processing. A cross-modal phonological priming technique combined with a lexical decision task assessed speech processing of 28 native English speakers as they listened to (1) native English speech, (2) unmodified Russian speech, and (3) modified Russian speech with SS and UU syllables altered to match native productions. Unmodified UU vowels led to significant inhibition of lexical access, while unmodified SS vowels revealed less of such interference. Acoustically “improving” vowel quality and duration in UU and SS syllables greatly facilitated word recognition only for UU-syllable-containing words. A recommendation is made that UU syllables are incorporated into pronunciation instruction for Russian learners of English.
Subjects/Keywords English As A Second Language; Linguistics; secondary-stressed syllables; unstressed-unreduced syllables; Russian learners of English as a second language; lexical stress; vowel reduction; word recognition; speech processing; intelligibility; pronunciation instruction
Contributors Hewitt, Lynne (Committee Chair); Dilley, Laura (Advisor)
Language en
Rights unrestricted ; This thesis or dissertation is protected by copyright: all rights reserved. It may not be copied or redistributed beyond the terms of applicable copyright laws.
Country of Publication us
Format application/pdf
Record ID oai:etd.ohiolink.edu:bgsu1340114580
Repository ohiolink
Date Retrieved
Date Indexed 2016-12-22
Grantor Bowling Green State University

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…language literature on insufficient vowel reduction by non-native speakers of English (Braun, Lemhöfer, & Mani, 2011; Flege & Bohn, 1989), there are practically no widely known studies on just the opposite phenomenon—vowel over-reduction. Vowel

…two phenomena can be done simultaneously: first, the unique pattern of vowel reduction exhibited by Russian learners of English that has not been researched before, and second, the consequences of inappropriate vowel reduction in UU and SS syllables…

…specifically, the reduction of full vowels in SS and UU syllable positions. The Russian language, unlike the English language, permits only one stressed syllable per lexical word—all the other syllables undergo various degrees of vowel reduction. As a result…

…may have a hindering effect on the acquisition of English SS and UU syllable categories, typically resulting in their temporal and vowel quality reduction by Russian speakers of English. Such inappropriate reductions may be a considerable contributor…

…second language acquisition research concerns the consequences of improper SS and UU vowel reduction. Most acoustic studies on rhythm acquisition have focused on speakers that struggle with exactly the opposite—not sufficiently reducing unstressed…

…language such as syllable structure, vowel reduction and phonetic realization of stress. The syllable structure of stress-timed languages like English and Russian includes considerable variation in syllable length due to the permissible syllable types…

…The existence of vowel reduction in stress-timed languages makes stressed syllables maximally 13 prominent relative to the short unstressed syllables, while in syllable-timed languages there are no reduced variants of vowels, and prominence…

…differences in the variety of syllable structures; however, this could arguably not be the case for distinguishing languages like English and Russian which have rather similar syllable structures with rich consonant clusters and vowel reduction. Also…