DOI: 10.1177/00238309231200629 ISSN: 0023-8309

Articulatory Insights into the L2 Acquisition of English-/l/ Allophony

Laura Colantoni, Alexei Kochetov, Jeffrey Steele
  • Speech and Hearing
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Language and Linguistics
  • General Medicine

In many English varieties, /l/ is produced differently in onsets and codas. Compared with “light” syllable-initial realizations, “dark” syllable-final variants involve reduced tongue tip-alveolar ridge contact and a raised/retracted tongue dorsum. We investigate whether native French and Spanish speakers whose L1 lacks such positionally conditioned variation can acquire English-/l/ allophony, testing the hypotheses that (1) the allophonic pattern will be acquired by both groups but (2) learners will differ from native speakers in their phonetic implementation, particularly in codas; and (3) French-speaking learners will outperform their Spanish-speaking counterparts. The production of syllable-initial and -final /l/ (singletons and clusters) in words read in isolation and a carrier sentence by 4 French- and 3 Spanish-speaking learners as well as three native English speakers was analyzed via electropalatography and acoustic analysis. While some learners produced distinct onset and coda variants and all learners had moved away to some extent from their L1 production, they differed from the native speakers in certain ways. Moreover, between- and within-group variability was observed including greater target-like anterior and posterior contact reduction in codas in the L1 French versus L1 Spanish group and generally higher F2 values in both learner groups compared with their native speaker peers. A comparison of the learners’ L1 and L2 production revealed L1-based patterns of positional reduction of the tongue tip and dorsum gestures. We conclude by addressing the contributions of EPG to our understanding of L2 speech and highlight avenues for future research including the study of both linguistic and speaker variables.

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