Effects of Orthographic Input on Second Language Phonology: The influence of literacy and script familiarity

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Education


NB: Please note that some linguistic / phonetic characters were deemed invalid and so had to be removed.

Learning an additional language in adulthood results in varying levels of final attainment, particularly in second language (L2) phonology. Research has revealed far-reaching effects of written input on L2 phonological attainment (Bassetti, 2009). This project will extend the experimental paradigm piloted by my Masters thesis on the topic of L2 orthography and phonology to include an understudied population-low-literate immigrants-and investigate relevant factors such as script familiarity. Results will inform theories of L2 phonological development and L2 teaching practice.
Adult L2 learners already know at least one language, meaning they face interference from first language (L1) phonology and orthography (Flege, 1987; Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2008). Some argue orthographic input (i.e., the spelling of sounds) supports the acquisition of new phonemes (consonant and vowels) that are perceived as similar to an L1 phoneme (Cutler et al., 2006; Escudero et al., 2008). However, orthographic forms can negatively influence L2 phonology, resulting in non-target production. Examples include the pronunciation of silent letters (Young-Scholten et al., 1999), the omission of phonemes that are spelt out (Bassetti, 2007), and the substitution of the L2 phoneme with a L1 phoneme represented by the same letter, such as the pronunciation of v as v rather than b in L2 Spanish (Rafat, 2013).
These studies have limited scope. First, they have investigated educated, literate learners, overlooking the large population of low-literate immigrants whose literacy training comes as part of learning their L2 (Tarone, Bigelow & Hansen, 2013). Second, participants are typically learners of an L2 whose script matches that of their L1 (usually the Roman alphabet). Finally, studies have focused on the acquisition of L2 contrasts (differences between two phonemes) that are difficult to perceive because the two target phonemes are assimilated to a single L1 phoneme, such as the l r distinction for Japanese learners of English (Guion et al., 2000). This project intends to address these gaps in the literature by offering a more balanced representation of L2 learner experiences generated by contemporary migration patterns, as well as informing theoretical models of L2 phonological development and approaches in language and literacy teaching.
Research questions
1. Is orthographic input helpful, hindering or inaccessible during spoken word recognition and retention in L2 learners who are unfamiliar with L2 script, either due to literacy in a different script or low-literacy in their L1?
2. Is there a recognition and retention advantage for literate learners where L2 phonemes do not assimilate to L1 categories and visual analysis is available? Is this dependent on script familiarity?
Results will:
1. Expand understanding of how written input interacts with sound systems, and influences early L2 phonological development
2. Add to knowledge of the impact of literacy skills on language development generally and specifically contribute to research by the LESLLA (Low-Educated Language and Literacy Acquisition) forum.
A series of experiments will teach words in a novel pseudo-language based on non-Roman script and target L2 sounds that are not similar to the L1 (e.g. Arabic script and Zulu click consonants). Experiments will examine the basic effects of script familiarity and orthographic input on unfamiliar phoneme contrasts by contrasting low-literate, literate script-familiar and literate script-unfamiliar groups, experimentally manipulating the presence of orthographic input. In each case, accuracy measures will indicate when orthographic input can help or hinder L2 phonology acquisition, and eye-tracking will provide indications as to the locus of the effect.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000746/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1943354 Studentship ES/P000746/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021 Louise Shepperd