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The Acquisition of the Phrase Accent by Intermediate and Advanced Adult Learners of Spanish as a Second Language
Holly J. Nibert
108-122 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


The acquisition of intonation by adult learners is one of the least explored areas of second language acquisition research. The present study reports on the results of a perception experiment administered to two groups of adult learners of Spanish as an L2, with English as an L1. The first group consisted of 37 intermediate-level learners while the second group involved 18 advanced-level learners. Subjects listened to a series of 67 utterances in the L2 that varied according to the phrase accent (represented as T-), a tonal category marking the right edge of intermediate phrases in Spanish intonation. Two research questions were addressed: 1) do intermediate and advanced learners of Spanish as a second language perceive disambiguating high (H-) phrase accents in intonation contours?; and 2) employing the results of Nibert (1999, 2000) as a reference point, do these learners assign the same meanings to contours as those assigned by native Spanish listeners? The results show that: 1) both intermediate and advanced learners of Spanish attend to utterance-medial H- phrase accents in the language, 2) the advanced learners' responses to meaning approximate native-speaker judgments more closely than do the intermediate learners' responses, pointing to different stages of development, and 3) the advanced learners' responses reveal a native-like level of attainment, despite the fact that the intermediate phrasing choices interacted with syntactic structures not present in the L1, despite a lack of instruction in Spanish intonation, and despite the scarcity of positive evidence from previous input regarding the types of meaning contrasts provoked by utterance-medial H-. Within generative theory, these findings lend support to the perspective that there is full access to Universal Grammar (UG) during the L2 acquisition process.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 6th Conference on the Acquisition of Spanish and Portuguese as First and Second Languages
edited by David Eddington
Table of contents
Printed edition: $195.00