Perception of English stress by Mandarin Chinese learners of English: An acoustic study




Wang, Qian

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Second language learners of English often experience difficulties in English lexical stress perception. This has traditionally been attributed to transfer of prosodic unit or settings from their first language (L1). Similarly, the problem of Chinese learners with English stress perception was assumed to arise from tonal transfer. However, little research has been devoted to the investigation of the phonetic details of second language (L2) stress perception. The present research focuses on the perception of English lexical stress by Chinese learners of English. The purpose of this study is to reveal the use of acoustic cues in stress perception by Chinese learners of English. In the experiment, F0, duration and intensity were manipulated, each with five steps, on three disyllabic nonsense words to result in a total of 375 nonsense tokens. A group of native speakers of English (NE) and a group of Chinese learners of English (CE) participated in the study and judged whether the stress was on the first or second syllable in the test stimuli. The responses of Chinese learners of English in stress judgment were compared against the baseline of native English speakers. The statistical tests of reliance measures and logistic regression models were used in data analysis. Results indicated that, similar to NE participants, performance by CE participants showed systematic variation as a result of the manipulation of the three acoustic cues. However, CEs were different from NEs in their reliance on the three cues. CE had significantly lower duration and intensity reliance scores but significantly higher F0 than NE. In logistic regression analysis, compared to the NE group, F0 contributed most to the CE models, while the contribution of duration and intensity was minimal. It is concluded from this study that while all three cues have significant effects on stress perception for native English speakers, only F0 has a decisive effect on stress judgments by Chinese learners of English. This study reveals that, rather than transfer of tone at the phonological level, there is transfer of reliance on F0 in the acquisition of L2 English stress. It is suggested that the investigation of phonetic details of learners’ problems with L2 stress acquisition is necessary for L2 speech learning theories and also for L2 stress teaching.



Second Language Acquisition (SLA), Perception, Chinese Learners of English, acoustic cues, L2 speech learning, suprasegmentals, lexical stress