Date of Award

5-2014

Culminating Project Type

Thesis

Degree Name

English: Teaching English as a Second Language: M.A.

Department

English

College

College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Ettien Koffi

Second Advisor

Michael Schwartz

Third Advisor

Monica Devers

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Abstract

Although laboratory phonology techniques have been widely employed to discover the interplay between the acoustic correlates of English Lexical Stress (ELS)–fundamental frequency, duration, and intensity - studies on ELS in polysyllabic words are rare, and cross-linguistic acoustic studies in this area are even rarer. Consequently, the effects of language experience on L2 lexical stress acquisition are not clear. This investigation of adult Arabic (Saudi Arabian) and Mandarin (Mainland Chinese) speakers analyzes their ELS production in tokens with seven different stress-shifting suffixes; i.e., Level 1 [+cyclic] derivations to phonologists. Stress productions are then systematically analyzed and compared with those of speakers of Midwest American English using the acoustic phonetic software, Praat. In total, one hundred subjects participated in the study, spread evenly across the three language groups, and 2,125 vowels in 800 spectrograms were analyzed (excluding stress placement and pronunciation errors). Nonnative speakers completed a sociometric survey prior to recording so that statistical sampling techniques could be used to evaluate acquisition of accurate ELS production. The speech samples of native speakers were analyzed to provide norm values for cross-reference and to provide insights into the proposed Salience Hierarchy of the Acoustic Correlates of Stress (SHACS). The results support the notion that a SHACS does exist in the L1 sound system, and that native-like command of this system through accurate ELS production can be acquired by proficient L2 learners via increased L2 input. Other findings raise questions as to the accuracy of standard American English dictionary pronunciations as well as the generalizability of claims made about the acoustic properties of tonic accent shift.

Comments/Acknowledgements

Whilst this thesis may bear my name, the credit belongs to so many others as well. The research process has been a long and often arduous journey interspersed with moments of joy and wonder. My heartfelt thanks goes to each and every person who has helped me along the way.

First and foremost, I thank the many participants who gave up their free time to be recorded for my study. Without their contributions, this project literally would not have been possible. Also, I would like to extend my sincerest appreciation to the members of my thesis committee: Drs. Ettien Koffi (Linguistics), Michael Schwartz (TESL), and Monica Devers (Communication Disorders). Their invaluable comments, suggestions, and constructive criticisms have guided me through throughout my investigations. I admire them for their professionalism and am deeply appreciative of their keen insight and unwavering encouragement. In particular, I must thank my committee chair, Dr. Koffi, who first gave me the idea of analyzing the acoustical properties of words with stress-shifting suffixes. His passionate teaching style and personal mentoring have always been a great resource for me.

Additionally, I wish to give the Office of Sponsored Programs a special mention for graciously awarding this research a grant through the university’s Student Research Fund. Also, thank you to Sara Broudeur and Joseph Sipe from the Statistics Consulting Center, led by Dr. Randal Kolb, for tolerating my often last-minute v requests for help. A huge thank you also goes out to all my wonderful colleagues in the MA TESL program, particularly Erko Abdullahi for suggesting that I use Praat scripts, and Benjamin Kohler for his formatting expertise.

Most of all though, I dedicate this thesis to my beloved betrothed, Chin-Yu (Vivian), for without her love, support, and kindness, I could never imagine completing this work.

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