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L2 ENGLISH INTONATION: Relations between Form-Meaning Associations, Access to Meaning, and L1 Transfer

  • Marta Ortega-Llebaria (a1) and Laura Colantoni (a2)

Although there is consistent evidence that higher levels of processing, such as learning the form-meaning associations specific to the second language (L2), are a source of difficulty in acquiring L2 speech, no study has addressed how these levels interact in shaping L2 perception and production of intonation. We examine the hypothesis of whether access to contextual meaning increases the chances of first language (L1) influence on L2 intonation. To test this hypothesis, we compared the perception and production of sentential English focus by 27 advanced English language learners (n = 13 L1 Mandarin speakers; n = 14 L1 Spanish speakers) and 13 controls, through a series of tasks that promoted different levels of access to meaning. Results showed that L1 transfer was especially clear in Spanish speakers. Not only did they consistently differ from controls in their perception of focalized verbs and subjects, showing their L1 bias to perceive focus at the end of a sentence, but they were also the only group of speakers that inserted pauses after the focalized word, which showed strong L1 effects. Moreover, these L1 transfer effects were more obvious in contextualized tasks, which indicated that facilitating access to meaning by adding context increased L1 transfer effects on the perception and especially on the production of focus intonation.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marta Ortega-Llebaria, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Linguistics, 2830 Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. E-mail:
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This research has been supported by a SSHRC grant (890-2011-0049) to both authors, a Victoria College research grant to Laura Colantoni, and a research grant from Arts and Sciences College, University of Pittsburgh, to Marta Ortega-Llebaria. The authors want to thank Charlotte Rogers, Julia Sandoval, Anita Rao, Lexi Williams, Olivia Marasco, and Matt Patience for their assistance during the creation of the materials, subject testing, and data labeling.

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Studies in Second Language Acquisition
  • ISSN: 0272-2631
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