Gagne de la cryptomonnaie GRATUITE en 5 clics et aide institut numérique à propager la connaissance universitaire >> CLIQUEZ ICI <<

2.2.2. Suprasegmentals and L2 acquisition

Non classé

As is reported by Mennen (2006):

In a survey of major international journals in second language acquisition of the
past twenty-five years carried out by Gut (personal communication), it was found
that as few as nine studies investigated intonation and tone. Only four of these
studies were concerned with perception of intonation, the other five were
production studies. (4)

Just like studies on L1 phonology acquisition, most of the studies on the acquisition of L2
phonology have concerned individual phonemes so far, disregarding suprasegmentals
(Rasier & Hiligsmann, 2007: 41). For that matter, many other researchers in the field of L2
phonology acquisition agree about the discrepancy between segmental focus and prosodic
focus. Ploquin (2009: 25) notes a sharp contrast between the growing interest in prosody and
the lack of studies on its acquisition in L2 context. Trofimovich and Baker (2006: 2), too, stress
the following point: “Given the important role of prosody (hereafter, suprasegmentals) in
language learning and use, the scarcity of research investigating second language (L2)
acquisition of suprasegmentals is striking”. The possible explanation put forward in
Vaissière and Boula de Mareüil (2004) lies in the experimental difficulties and equipment
problems that researchers have to cope with. Experiments on L2 prosody, and prosody in
general, usually require specific materials and they depend on the evolution of technology.
Furthermore, studies on prosody must be conducted before studies on its acquisition so that
cross-linguistic experiments may be carried out.

Despite the lack of theoretical and empirical studies on the acquisition of L2
suprasegmentals, Trofimovich and Baker (idem: 22) observe: “The acquisition of L2
suprasegmentals is akin to L2 segmental learning in that both likely represent a gradual
learning process that often requires extended amounts of experience with, or exposure to, the
L2”. As far as the perception of L2 prosody by learners is concerned, the number of studies is
extremely limited, and experiments involving French learners of English as a Foreign
Language are even scarcer. Atoye’s (2005) experiment, e.g., was interested in the
identification – and interpretation – of English intonation by Nigerian learners. The
conclusion was extended to the field of L2 teaching in that English pronunciation teaching
should take into account not only the phonological dimension of intonation, but above all its
function and social dimension. This finding confirms the paramount importance of
suprasegmentals in EFL/ESL acquisition, whatever the learner’s L1, since it reminds one that
they also have specific pragmatic functions, besides their basic phonological roles. In France,
EFL pronunciation teaching completely disregards this major aspect of intonation and other
prosodic features.

Experimental studies on the production of L2 suprasegmentals are slightly more frequent
than they are on perception, even though too few of them involve French learners of English
– both as a second and foreign language. In Ploquin’s (2009) experiment, French learners of
English participated in a recording task in which they had to read rhythmically simple items
(monosyllabic words), and rhythmically more complex items (sentences). Native speakers of
and experts in North American English evaluated the productions, focusing on prosody and
purposely ignoring the segmental aspects. The results of the experiment showed that lexical
stress was not so problematic to French learners, who globally assimilated that notion, while
pitch accents caused more trouble. On the other hand, Hahn’s (2004) experiment, involving
L2 learners of English of various linguistic backgrounds, highlighted the importance of
lexical stress in L2 production. Native speakers evaluated the productions of the learners,
who either misplaced primary stress or did not produce it at all. The results and comments
made by the listeners enhanced the fact that primary stress is crucial in comprehension, but
also that when listening to productions with misplaced or missing primary stresses, native
speakers respond far less positively.

As regards the production of English nuclear syllables, the experiment conducted by Nava
(2008) mainly examined event sentences, which are usually problematic to French EFL
learners (cf. 1.2.2.). Although the reading task was done by Spanish learners, the findings
give an insight into how French learners produce English prosodic features, as French and
Spanish have a very similar prosodic structure as far as main prominence realization is
concerned. The author concludes that there is a predictable, indeed unavoidable, prosodic
transfer from L1 to L2. Spanish speakers systematically assign main prominence to the last
syllable of an utterance – just like French speakers –, hence their difficulty in acquiring the
correct L2 pattern. Another study by Nava and Zubizarreta (2009: 175) provided further
evidence that “in order to acquire the Germanic NS [nuclear stress] algorithm, the L2 learner
must have moved from a syllable-timed to a stress-timed rhythm”. As was explained in
1.2.3., the two radically different rhythmic structures of English and French – and by
extension Germanic languages and Romance languages – prevent learners of English from
achieving native-like production of rhythm, including stresses and accents.

Finally, some studies have looked at the impact of bad production of L2 prosodic features
on foreign accent. Contrary to what is usually believed, it is not only the bad realization of
phonemes and phones that contributes to foreign-accentedness, but the contribution of L2
suprasegmental errors may actually be stronger (Herry, 2001: 4; Trofimovich and Baker, 2006:
3-4). In fact, even an impeccable production of segments is not enough to attain nativelikeness
and avoid unintelligibility. Jilka’s (2000: 2) study focuses on the role of intonation in
the perception of a foreign accent. The author notices: “The involvement of prosody in
foreign accent is even more prominent when a French accent is concerned […]. As a
consequence, prosodic features should not be regarded in advance as inherently less relevant
to foreign accent”. Given the sharp differences between the English and French prosodic
structures, L2 prosody should not be dismissed as irrelevant to foreign-accentedness,
especially by French learners, as intelligibility greatly depends on it (Thorén, 2008).

Given the account of the previous experimental studies on the acquisition of English
suprasegmental features, the question of L2 pronunciation teaching may be raised. Following
the various experiments examining L2 prosody, Thorén (2008: 28) argues in favour of a Basic
Prosody (BP) approach, at least concerning L2 learners of Swedish: “The present BPapproach
claims that correct temporal realization of stress and quantity in Swedish is a
prerequisite of listener friendliness, i.e. a comfortably intelligible Swedish”. The problem of
the place of prosody in English pronunciation teaching in France will be addressed through
our experiment, a detailed account of which is given in Chapter 3. Nevertheless, it is first
necessary to have an overview of the previous comparative studies on the roles of segments
and suprasegments in L2 acquisition.

Page suivante : 2.2.3. Comparative studies of L2 segmentals and suprasegmentals