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Title: Chinese EFL Learners’ Acquisition of Phonology: A Comparative Analysis of the Influence of Two Dialects (Northeastern and Cantonese)
Authors: Jiang, Xinliang
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: Chinese and English belong to two distinct language families. Given that English is a lingua franca, there are millions of learners of English who speak one of the varieties of Chinese. Due to the substantial phonological differences between the two languages, Chinese learners of English may encounter difficulties when they communicate in English; developmental issues may also play a role. In addition to Mandarin, Chinese has many dialects/languages and, because these dialects/languages differ from each other, speakers of these Chinese dialects/languages pronounce English differently. It is reasonable to suppose that this behaviour is phonologically governed. The influence from the first language (L1) on second language (L2) phonology has long been viewed as an important factor (Lado, 1957; see also Anderson, 1987; Corder, 1967; Ellis, 1994; Fisiak, 1978, 1991; Gass, 1979; Odlin, 1989; Rasier and Hiligsmann, 2007; Young-Scholten, 1985). Moreover, a large number of relevant research studies on the influence of L1 on L2 have been conducted on the effects of L1 Chinese - typically Mandarin - on L2 English phonology (Li, 2006; Wang, 2007) and to a lesser extent on the influence of other L1 Chinese dialects (Chen, 2010). Why do different Chinese dialects/languages generate differences in the non-target production of English? How do different Chinese dialects/languages influence L2 English and what features, error types and specific errors do different L1 dialect/language speakers make? Questions like these can be answered partially by consulting the literature, but also need further exploration. Moreover, comparative research analysing one language (or language group) but two dialects/languages with L2 English is limited. Therefore, this study explores the phonological differences between two L1 dialects/languages to see what different effects they have on L2 phonology, and thus it contributes to filling this gap in the literature. In so doing, Lado’s Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH, 1995) and Flege’s Speech Learning iv Model (SLM, 1995) are applied as theoretical frameworks. The CAH and SLM involve contradictory notions concerning categories of ‘similar’ and ‘new’ in terms of which is more difficult for the learner. Both are addressed in the present thesis to determine which can best account for the difficulties L2 English learners have in their oral production of L2 English. It needs to noted that as Groves and Mair (2008) said, Chinese situation is unique because mutual intelligibility principle is not sufficient to determine whether Chinese varieties are dialects or languages, thus, I will refer to Harbinese Mandarin and Guangzhou Cantonese as dialects as they are conventionally referred to. This research firstly compares Harbinese Mandarin and Guangzhou Cantonese which fall under the umbrella of Chinese, and to do so with respect to segments, syllable structure and stress, and their different effects on learners’ acquisition of English phonology, followed by the proposal of hypotheses based on Flege’s idea of L1-L2 similarity-based degree of difficulty in SLM. Data was collected to test these hypotheses from 65 participants from three schools at different educational levels (middle school, high school and university) from Harbin and Guangzhou. Auditory analysis, together with acoustic analysis and a native speaker’s spot check, was used to guarantee the validity of the analysis and the reliability of the results. In addition, independent-samples t-tests were carried out to check the significance of the differences in L2 English production between the two Chinese groups. The results indicate that the influence of L1 Chinese dialects/languages on L2 English is found everywhere in the sample, including in segments, syllable structure and stress, and that this influence is statistically significant. Different error types and patterns made by Harbinese and Cantonese learners of English were found. Mandarin is also v spoken by the participants and its influence can be detected from the Cantonese results. The hypotheses in the category of ‘similar’ were generally rejected and in the category of ‘new’ were completely rejected. These findings indicate that Flege’s SLM model suggesting that L1-L2 differences that are ‘similar’ are more difficult than ‘new’, cannot be supported in this context. On the contrary, Lado’s CAH, where ‘new’ differences are predicted for the difficulties L2 learners may have, was supported. In addition, the varieties of English used by Harbinese and Cantonese speakers were also checked. It seems that Harbinese speakers tend to speak American English and Cantonese speakers speak British English, but the difference is not strongly significant. Thus, it is suggested that the variety they speak may be influenced by the similarity between L1 dialects/languages and English varieties; that is to say, the dialect/language more similar to a variety of English influences oral production. With respect to the hypothesis that increased length of exposure leads to reduced error rates, the results are not completely supportive because high school subjects score best among the three levels. This may be due to factors relating to the recent evolution of English teaching in China.
Description: Ph. D. Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

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