Native French speakers have been observed to encounter great difficulty with the glottal fricative /h/ in L2 English, both in perception and in production. On the view that only those L2 segments for which the L1 grammar supplies all the necessary features required for appropriate representation are acquirable, this suggests that /h/ requires some feature that French lacks; however, cross-linguistic evidence strongly suggests that /h/ has an unmarked structure composed entirely of features that are present in French. This paper evaluates an alternate possibility: that the difficulties experienced by francophones are due to the acoustic properties of /h/, which conspire to prevent this segment from being reliably detected in the speech stream. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were collected from L1 French L2 English speakers, along with native English speaker controls, and the mismatch-negativity (MMN) was elicited as a measure of discrimination of /h/ in both a linguistic condition and a non-linguistic condition. The results provide strong evidence against the hypothesis that francophones' difficulties with /h/ are rooted in this segment's acoustic properties.
Proceedings of the 8th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2006): The Banff Conference
edited by Mary Grantham O'Brien, Christine Shea, and John Archibald
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