Prosodic Realization of Focus in Second Language Speech: Effects of Language Experience
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Prosodic focus is phonetically realized by increasing duration, F0 and intensity on the focused constituents in a sentence. In some languages, there is a concomitant compression of F0 and intensity after the focused item, referred to as post-focus compression (PFC). Southern Min is a tone language that does not have PFC, while Beijing Mandarin is a tone language that does. Like Mandarin, American English has PFC; unlike Mandarin, American English has lexical stress rather than lexical tone. The current dissertation investigated the phonetic realization of focus in second language Mandarin by Southern Min and English learners and its realization in English by Mandarin learners. Second language experience was also manipulated in each of the investigations. The findings were that younger Southern Min speakers, who used more L2 Mandarin than the mid-age and older speakers, produced substantial PFC in Mandarin. Chinese-heritage American learners, who were exposed to Mandarin earlier than non-Chinese-heritage learners, produced some PFC in Mandarin while non-Chinese-heritage learners did not produce any. Finally, Chinese students in college with longer residencies in the United States produced more PFC in English than those with shorter residencies. American English speakers were also found to have more difficulties producing contour tones compared to the high-level tone on target focused items in L2 Mandarin while Mandarin Chinese speakers had more difficulties in producing unstressed syllables compared to stressed syllables on target focused items in L2 English. Overall, the results support the Speech Learning Model prediction that similarities in L1 and L2 sound system result in difficulty acquiring L2 sounds. This may be especially true for prosody because there are interactions between word- and sentence-level patterns. The results also confirm that age of learning is especially important for native-like acquisition of an L2; however, for early learners, the amount of L2 use and length of residence in the L2-speaking environment also clearly impact the acquisition of L2 prosody. Finally, the results suggest that production of PFC in a language that requires it provides a good index of second language speech proficiency.