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The durational modulation of repeated words in second language discourse by language experience



Previous research suggests that repeated words in discourse are durationally shortened in comparison to the first mention, particularly when the words describe the same scene in a story. However, previous methods often relied on reading passages, which may be challenging to second language (L2) speakers or films, which require significant cultural comprehension. These methods may provide different findings from the accessibility of discourse referents in spontaneous speech using a picture narrative. This pilot study used a multi-scene picture narrative to elicit word reduction in spontaneous discourse. L2 English speakers with Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Spanish as a first language narrated a story using a sequence of eight pictures/scenes about two strangers who collide and accidentally pick up each other's suitcase. Productions, when compared to native speakers of English, showed similar patterns of repeated word reduction. The results suggest that durations typically reset to full duration when words are repeated in different scenes, but they reduce within scenes. Results also suggest that the degree of second mention reductions vary modestly by first language. The results also show that a picture narrative was a promising method to elicit 2nd mention reductions in spontaneous speech and demonstrated durational sensitivity to scene changes.
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One of the chief goals of most second language learners is to be understood in their second language by a wide range of interlocutors in a variety of contexts. Although a nonnative accent can sometimes interfere with this goal, prior to the publication of this study, second language researchers and teachers alike were aware that an accent itself does not necessarily act as a communicative barrier. Nonetheless, there had been very little empirical investigation of how the presence of a nonnative accent affects intelligibility, and the notions of “heavy accent” and “low intelligibility” had often been confounded. Some of the key findings of the study—that even heavily accented speech is sometimes perfectly intelligible and that prosodic errors appear to be a more potent force in the loss of intelligibility than phonetic errors—added support to some common, but weakly substantiated beliefs. The study also provided a framework for a program of research to evaluate the ways in which such factors as intelligibility and comprehensibility are related to a number of other dimensions. The authors have extended and replicated the work begun in this study to include learners representing other L1 backgrounds (Cantonese, Japanese, Polish, Spanish) and different levels of learner proficiency, as well as other discourse types (Derwing & Munro, 1997; Munro & Derwing, 1995). Further support for the notion that accent itself should be regarded as a secondary concern was obtained in a study of processing difficulty (Munro & Derwing, 1995), which revealed that nonnative utterances tend to require more time to process than native-produced speech, but failed to indicate a relationship between strength of accent and processing time.The approach to L2 speech evaluation used in this study has also proved useful in investigations of the benefits of different methods of teaching of pronunciation to ESL learners. In particular, it is now clear that learner assessments are best carried out with attention to the multidimensional nature of L2 speech, rather than with a simple focus on global accentedness. It has been shown, for instance, that some pedagogical methods may be effective in improving intelligibility while others may have an effect only on accentedness (Derwing, Munro, & Wiebe, 1998).
In discourse, speakers tend to choose lexically short words (e.g., pronouns) when the words’ referents are highly accessible to listeners. However, in narrations of a film, a change in episode between references to a character, even one who should otherwise be accessible to a listener, tends to block use of short expressions. In one investigation of spontaneous film narrations and in two follow-up experiments, we found that conditions fostering shortening and lengthening at the lexical level also fostered durational reduction and blocking of reduction of repeated names and of content words more generally. The experiments confirm that episode boundaries tend to block durational shortening, but only when boundaries are marked by “metanarrative statements” (references, e.g., to a scene as such) not by narrative-level discontinuities.
In this study, we compare the effects of English lexical features on word duration for native and non-native English speakers and for non-native speakers with different L1s and a range of L2 experience. We also examine whether non-native word durations lead to judgments of a stronger foreign accent. We measured word durations in English paragraphs read by 12 American English (AE), 20 Korean, and 20 Chinese speakers. We also had AE listeners rate the `accentedness' of these non-native speakers. AE speech had shorter durations, greater within-speaker word duration variance, greater reduction of function words, and less between-speaker variance than non-native speech. However, both AE and non-native speakers showed sensitivity to lexical predictability by reducing second mentions and high frequency words. Non-native speakers with more native-like word durations, greater within-speaker word duration variance, and greater function word reduction were perceived as less accented. Overall, these findings identify word duration as an important and complex feature of foreign-accented English.
Three experiments examined the conditions under which repeated words undergo durational shortening in speech. Previous research (Fowler and Housum, 1987) showed that repeated content words are shortened in spontaneous speech. One experiment in the present series found no shortening when words are produced in lists. in a second experiment, reductions were observed for the same words produced in meaningful prose. Words preceded by homophones did not undergo shortening. The findings suggest that shortenings reflect talkers' exploitation of a word's redundancy in the context of a discourse. A final experiment found more shortening of content words produced in a communicative context than in the same discourse, transcribed and read into a microphone. Possibly, the tendency to shorten is increased by the presence of a listener; alternatively, it may reflect the slower speech rate characteristic of spontaneous as compared to read speech.