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Bookmark and Share Paper 1331

The Acquisition of the Phrase Accent by Beginning Adult Learners of Spanish as a Second Language
Holly J. Nibert
131-148 (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 22 beginning adult learners of Spanish as an L2, with English as an L1. This research expands on Nibert (1999, 2000) and Nibert (2005), where the same perception test was administered to 33 native Spanish listeners, and 18 advanced and 37 intermediate adult learners of L2 Spanish, respectively. All four groups listened to a series of 67 Spanish utterances that varied according to the phrase accent (represented as T-), a tonal category marking the right edge of intermediate phrases in Spanish intonation. Three research questions were addressed in the study at hand: (1) Do true beginners perceive disambiguating high (H-) phrase accents in Spanish intonation contours, despite limited experience with the language? (2) Employing as reference points the results in Nibert (1999, 2000, 2005), do the beginners' assessments regarding the meaning of these utterances conform to the pattern observed for intermediate and advanced learners, where interpretations are less restrictive the earlier the stage of L2 acquisition? (3) Do the beginner responses show evidence of L1 transfer? The results indicate that: (1) beginning learners perceive and interpret an utterance-medial H-phrase accent, but only when it appears in a structure similar to their L1; (2) the beginners' meaning assessments do indeed conform to the emerging continuum suggested in Nibert (2005) in that they are less restrictive than those of intermediate learners, which in turn are less restrictive than those of advanced learners, which are native-like; and (3) the beginner responses do indeed show evidence of L1 transfer. Within generative theory, and within the perspective that L2 acquisition is constrained by Universal Grammar (UG), these cumulative results strongly support the Full Transfer Full Access Hypothesis, where the initial state of L2 acquisition is the learner's L1 grammar, there is full access to UG for the subsequent restructuring of L2 interlanguage, and a native-like level of attainment in the L2 is deemed a possible, albeit not assured, outcome.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonetics and Phonology
edited by Manuel Díaz-Campos
Table of contents
Printed edition: $180.00