Mastering the temporal pattern of English; an acoustic-phonetic study about plasticity in vowel durations of Dutch speakers of English
Leeuwen, A.R. van
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This study examines the development of the temporal pattern of proficient Dutch speakers of L2 English who live in an international environment and who speak English as a lingua franca. Question is how these students change their temporal pattern within a year when they have extended L2 experience during that year. This study focuses specifically on how the pattern of vowel durations changes in respect to the fortis-lenis (i.e. voiceless-voiced) distinction. In English, vowel before fortis consonants are shortened, while they have full length in other contexts. Dutch also has this distinction, but this contrast is neutralized in word-final position. Question is thus how Dutch speakers of English behave on a familiar contrast in an unfamiliar position. During their first year on campus the Dutch speakers were recorded two times: at the beginning and end of their first year. Additionally, native English speakers were recorded to form the control group. Vowel durations of these groups were analyzed on the basis of three variables: final consonant (fortis/lenis), vowel identity and the position of the target word in the sentence. Results indicate that after a year in an English-speaking environment, Dutch speakers of English have changed their temporal pattern. They have overall shorter durations than at the beginning of the year, indicating that they became more fluent and proficient. This idea is supported by an observed increase in overall speech rate. But although speakers become more fluent, their temporal pattern still differs from that of the native speakers both in respect to the fortis-lenis contrast as in respect to the amount of final lengthening on items in sentence-final position. The temporal pattern of English is thus, even for highly proficient L2 speakers, extremely difficult to master.