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Development in L2 phonology:
Let’s take a long look at the age issue
Martha Young-Scholten
Fundamental issues in L2
acquisition are in part problems about
time; claims about development are best interpreted
within a full longitudinal perspective where light
can also be shed on causes and effects regarding
various phenomena (Ortega & Iberri-Shea 2005:26;30).
Fundamental issues in L2 phonology
 ‘Traditional’
issues
 The role of L1 knowledge
 The contribution of universals/developmental processes
 The learner’s age upon initial exposure
(and peripheral issues such as aptitude, identity, anxiety)
 Emerging issues
 Input
 The relationship of phonological development to other
components of language
Longitudinal studies
 In L2A, the aim is the tracking of L1 influence and universal processes
during development
 Longitudinal studies allow observation of simultaneous development of
phonology, morphology, syntax and the lexicon to look for causal
relationships
 Longitudinal data on the development of phonology by child L1ers, child
L2ers and adult L2ers provides a developmental perspective on age (and
follows current trends in the study of the acquisition of morphosyntax)
 But few longitudinal studies of the phonological development of child
L2 learners exist
 Even fewer such studies exist on adult L2 learners.
The rest of the talk
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1. A bit more background
2. The modern history of the study of L2 morphosyntax
3. Development in phonology
4. Development in L2 phonology
5. Conclusion
1. A bit more background
 From the mid-1980s (e.g. Clahsen & Muysken 1986) through the 1990s
(e.g. Vainikka & Young-Scholten 1994) and up to now (e.g. Meisel 2003)
L2 morphosyntax researchers have paid (roughly) equal attention to
 the kind of knowledge acquired (mental representations)
 how this knowledge is acquired (its emergence, in stage-like development)
 If the same mechanisms are employed across the lifespan
 there should be no fundamental differences in learner’s mental
representations (e.g. no UG-violating grammars)
 there should be no differences in the developmental pathways taken (apart
from L1 influence)
 Much of this debate revolves around the production of verbal
morphology (non-finite vs. inflected forms) and the position in
declarative and embedded clauses of these (main) verbs
Longitudinal studies of morphosyntax
 Typically developing L1 children (including sign language
learners)
 Atypically developing L1 children
 Simultaneous bilingual children
 Child L2 learners (= the least number of studies)
 Adult L2 learners
 Studies have typically been of only one of these
populations; multi-age studies such as Snow & HoefnagelHöhle (1982) and more recently Unsworth (2005) – both
coincidentally on L2 Dutch – still represent a small minority
Longitudinal studies of phonology
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Typically developing L1 children
Bilingual children (simultaneous)
Atypically developing L1 children
Child L2 learners
Adult L2 learners
 In 39 years, 17 longitudinal L2 phonology have been carried out,
mostly on segmental phonology, and mostly on English (Gut 2009)
 L2 phonology models could be tested with such data (Best’s
Perceptual Assimilation; Flege’s Speech Learning; Eckman’s
Markedness/Structural Conformity; Major’s Ontogeny/Phylogeny;
Archibald’s parameter resetting, Dziubalska-Kołaczyk’s Natural
Phonology; Escudero & Boersma’s OT-based Functional Phonology)
IL phonology and age
 L2 phonology is natural (Eckman 1981)
 L2 adults’ phonologies are constrained by the same principles as
younger learners’ phonologies (Young-Scholten 1996)
 Many (all?) current L2 phonology models assume access to innate
language-specific/phonology-specific mechanisms across the lifespan
 E.g. Optimality Theory (Prince & Smolenksy 1993) assumes
lifelong availability of a set of universal constraints; ranking differs
across languages
 Note: This puts L2 phonology at odds with L2 morphosyntax where
debate regarding access to UG/use of same language-specific
mechanisms across the lifespan is unrelenting (e.g. Bley-Vroman
2009).
IL phonology and age
 To examine the critical/sensitive period for L2 phonology
 Look at end-state L2ers with differing ages of initial exposure
 Include extralinguistic factors, e.g. length of residence
 Less less attention has been paid to factors such as input quality
(e.g. from non-native speakers), input type (orthographic
exposure/literacy), identity, aptitude and motivation (this is
changing; perhaps presumably peripheral factors are important)
 If there is a CP for L2 phonology, when does it end?
 Pre-15 and post-15 year olds constitute two separate populations
(=the CP closes around age 15; Patkowski 1990)
 The CP closes earlier, starting at age 6 (Long 1990)
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IL phonology and age
 On the one hand, we have plenty of evidence of use of the same
mechanisms by younger and older learners
 On the other hand, we have plenty of evidence of non-convergence
on the target language phonology by older L2 learners
 This paradox (if it is one) can best be resolved by more work in L2
phonology from a developmental perspective:
 Without longitudinal data ‘claims about acquisition within an
OT model are weak’ (Hancin-Bhatt 2008:142).
 Errors (as we’ve known for awhile) aren’t the only measure of
difficulty ‘rate of acquisition [...] is a more insightful measure of
learning’ (Eckman 2008:101) – and best measured in a
longitudinal study.
2. The modern history of the study of
L2 morphosyntax
 Studies of L2 learners in a naturalistic acquisition context
initially dominated research on L2 morphosyntax (e.g. the
ZISA project of adult Italian, Portuguese and Spanish
learners of German) and through the 1990s (ESF project on
8 NLs/5 TLs) and currently continue to do so in the study
of the L2A of information structure
 Studying naturalistic learners removes one potentially
crucial difference between older and younger L2 learners:
instruction
L2 morphosyntax
 Note: The sub-group of L2 syntax researchers currently
approaching the UG access question by looking at
poverty of the stimulus/PoS effects (where underlying
structure is underdetermined by the input and not
available from the L1), instructed L2 learners needn’t be
excluded because PoS phenomena are not taught, because
 Forms may not exist for teachers to focus
on/correct when inaccurate
 Lack of awareness by teachers of the latest
generative analyses of syntax means that learners
aren’t taught the underlying structure
Representative longitudinal studies of L2 morphosyntax by
naturalistic (TL-immersed) adult learners
(numerous such studies exist on L2 children, usually by PhD students)
Study
L1 and L2
Subjects
Duration
Cazden et al.
1970s
L1 Spanish/L2 English
2 children, 2 teenagers,
2 adults
10 mnths
ZISA
1970s/80s
L1 Spanish, Portuguese,
Italian/L2 German
12 adults
2 years
ESF 1980s
6 L1s/5 European L2s
40 adults
2½
years
VYSA 1990s
L1 English/L2 German
Three teenagers
1 year
What we know and don’t know
 What we know
 Older learners demonstrate UG access, too (White 1989 and work
since then on PoS effects up to the present)
 Learners’ ILs develop in stages where both younger and older
learners display similar non-target patterns
 What we are unsure of
 The strength of influence of L1 knowledge (Schwartz & Sprouse
1996 vs. Vainikka & Young-Scholten 1996; to appear)
 The relationship between verbal morphology and syntax
 The source of non-target production in inflectional morphology
Debated: The interpretation of variable production
of inflectional morphology
 During acquisition, there is tight coupling of morphology + syntax:
acquisition of a given morpheme represents related syntactic structure
 Vainikka & Young-Scholten (1994): this holds in L1 and L2 acquisition
 Haznedar & Schwartz (1997): morphology + syntax are tightly coupled in
L1 acquisition but neither in child nor L2 acquisition
 Missing inflection is due to surface-level mapping problems
 Prévost & White (2000): morphology + syntax are tightly coupled for L1
and L2 children, but not for L2 adults
 Goad, White & Steele (2003): variable production of functional
morphology is related to L1 transfer of prosodic licensing
(past/agreement/plural suffixes in L1 Chinese/L2 English)
 Oldenkamp (2010): variable production (in L2 Dutch) involves
interaction of morphology and prosodic structure
What is the role of phonology in the L2 acquisition of
morphosyntax?
 How does the learner go from reception of a continous speech
stream to construction of a mental grammar? This has been ‘one of
the most under-researched and under-theorized aspects of second
language acquisition’ (Carroll 2001:1)
 This is changing with experimental studies of the phonological
realization of grammatical morphemes in L2 acquisition (FrenckMestre, Foucart, Carrasco & Herschensohn 2009; see also Arteaga,
Herschensohn & Gess 2003 for pedagogical applications thereof)
 Hancin-Bhatt (2008:119): substantial empirical evidence for
developmental effects in L2 phonology notwithstanding, there are
still few theoretical analyses that provide an account of
 how these effects interact over time with each other
 how they interact with other components of language
Naturalistic and uneducated adults: phonology +
morphosyntax + phonological awareness + reading
(cross-sectional study, Young-Scholten & Strom 2006)
Adults
w/no
school
Som;VN
Phung
Target-like
Morphosyntax Phonological awareness reading
segmental and
stage
% correct
level
prosodic
1= bare VP;
4=
onset; rime phoneme
phonology
4=CP
decoding
29%
1ii
51%
0%
1
Nien
3%
1i
34%
17%
1
Keif
69%
1ii
61%
8%
1
Abba
56%
1ii
56%
17%
1
Aliya
63%
1ii
37%
0%
1
Shamey
54%
1i
20%
16%
1
Asia
81%
1ii
36%
0%
2
Sharif
71%
4
68%
42%
4
3. Development in L1 phonology
A time-line of studies
Diary studies
Preyer 1889
Large sample
studies
Longitudinal sampling
Late 1920s1950s: groups
Stern 1907,1924
of between 72
Leopold 1939-1949 (Fisher 1934)
Grégoire 1937,1947 and 430
(Templin
Gvozdev 1949
1957) children
from 1;6 to 8;0
on their
Zarębina 1965
articulation,
vocabulary,
sentence
length
Braine 1963: 3 children
Miller & Ervin 1964: 5 children
Brown 1973: 3 children
Bloom 1970 3 children
Others (usually one child) e.g. Velten 1943,
Waterson 1971, Menn 1973, Smith 1973,
Ingram 1974
Shvachkin 1973 study of 19 Russian children’s
perception of phonemic distinctions from
0;10 to 1;6
Solely on phonology: Smith (1973)…Fikkert
(1994) ... Lleó & Prinz (1997)... Rose (2000)
4. Development in L2 phonology
 Morphosyntax researchers’ recruitment of phonology to address
the intractable problem of variation in production (and more; see
below)
 This points to the need to conduct studies along the lines of
Snow & Hoefnagel-Höhle (but see below)
 Do we know as much about L2 phonological development as we
do about morphosyntactic development?
 Do we know as much about L2 phonological development as we
know about L1 phonological development?
A time-line of longitudinal L2 phonology studies
Study
Description
Features investigated
Dickerson 1974
1 yr: 5 Japanese students’ English
/r/ and /l/
Wode 1978
½ yr: 4 German children’s English
Hecht & Mulford 1979
2/3 yr: 1 Icelandic child’s English
fricatives
Snow&HoefnagelHöhle 1982
1 yr: 33 children’s, teenagers’, adults’ Dutch
phonology, morphology,
vocabulary, syntax
Sato 1984
5/6 yr: 2 Vietnamese boys’ English
syllable structure
Rankin 1985
5 yrs: 32 Spanish university students’
English
segmental perception,
production
Winitz et al. 1995
6 2/3 yrs: 1 Polish boy’s English .
accent
Carlisle 1998
4 yrs: 4 Spanish students’ English
syllable structure
Abrahamsson 2003
1 2/3 yrs: 1 Chinese adult learner’s Swedish
syllable structure
Edwards 2006
5/6 yr: 2 Vietnamese adults’ English
syllable structure
phonology; morphology
Derwing et al. 2008 2 yrs: 32 Mandarin, Ukrainian, Russian
adults’ English
fluency;
comprehensibility
Oldenkamp 2010
phonology;
morphosyntax
1 -2 yrs: 24 Turkish, Arabic, Chinese
adults’ Dutch
Gut (2009): a corpus study that can provide a foundation
for longitudinal, comparison data
 Large-sample synchronic corpus L2 German (n= 55) and L2
English (n=46) focusing on rhythm, stress and intonation
 German L2 learners’ initial exposure ranged from age
three to 33 and included both instruction and immersion
 Sample includes spontaneous speech, a reading
passage, nonsense word reading and interview Qs on
exposure, motivation, attitude, musical and acting ability
 Gut examined relationships between prosody, morphology
and extra-linguistic factors
 Findings
 The variation found is highly systematic
 Acquisition involves a set of mutually dependent factors
 Age is no barrier to acquisition of phonology
Phonology and vocabulary
 In L1 acquisition, a vocabulary spurt coincides with
acceleration of phonological development (Ingram 1976).
 This spurt may relate to variability in syllable structure
simplification processes: typically developing L1
children delete rather than epenthesize, but early
talkers exhibit considerable epenthesis along with their
larger vocabularies
 In L2 acquisition epenthesis is the preferred syllable
simplification strategy for older learners (Abrahamsson
2003; Weinberger 1987 )
 Is there a comparable vocabulary spurt in (naturalistic)
second language acquisition that coincides with
phonological development?
Do older L2 learners resemble atypical L1 children?
 One line of inquiry in L2 research on morphosyntax has
involved asking whether L2 acquisition by older learners
resembles that of atypically developing L1 children (most
recently see Marinis to appear).
 In L2 phonology, the question is whether developmental
processes resemble that of the atypically developing
children discussed for example in Ingram (1976) who
either exhibited prolonged use of typically developing
children’s processes or who followed unique processes.
The role of phonology in triggering
morphosyntactic development
The VYSA longitudinal corpus
LEARNER EXPOSURE to foreign
languages
AGE at arrival in
Germany
Joan
1 month of Spanish;
no German
16
Paul
1 semester of French;
no German
17
George
1 year of French;
no German
15
Input and data collection in the VYSA study
 Input
 For the first four weeks
 From a German teacher and other American students during
language + culture course
 From learners’ initial host family
 During 11 subsequent months
 From (native speaking) students in German secondary schools
 From host families
 Data collection
 11 times (monthly), with individual learners in Germany
 Broad and narrow morphosyntax and phonology tasks, including
grammaticality judgment, comprehension and translation
 Informal conversation with the researcher about the learner’s
unfolding exchange experience
Joan, Paul and George’s acquisition of German syntax,
from 3 wks after arrival (file 1) to ca. 12 months later (file 11)
Stage: highest syntactic projection
Joan
Paul
George
1i: VP (verb phrase) – no function words produced
head-initial : Der Mann trinken der Kaffee.
1
1-2
1
1ii: VP switches to head-final
3
3
3
2-3
3-4
2-3
5
5-6
4
6-7
7-8
6-8
9
11
never
11
never
never
Die Madchen immer die Buch lesen.
2: FP/TP emerges and is head-initial
Ich gegessen der Apfel.
3: AgrP emerges and is head-initial
Ich wohnst there.
4i: CP emerges and is head-initial
Ich habe gewunst, dass du hast gefragt.
4ii: AgrP switches to head-final
Willst du es wirklich wissen, was wir gemacht haben?
4iii: AgrP head-final throughout
Individual variation
 Despite being the youngest, George made the least progress
in his acquisition of syntax: we attribute this to his conscious
learning of inflectional morphology (cf. Felix 1985 on
competing cognitive structures)
 George also made the least progress in acquiring final
devoicing (see Young-Scholten 2004)
 While Joan was best at morphosyntax, she Joan did not make
the most progress in final devoicing (due to more orthographic
exposure? (see Young-Scholten 2002)
 How does this relate to the acquisition of morphosyntax?
 All (naturalistic) learners (subconsciously) scan the input
for cues or triggers that reveal how a given language
operates
Phonological and morphological triggers for the
acquisition of syntactic structure in German
Projection
Trigger in child
German
Trigger in adult L2
German
VP
Stress pattern
L1 bootstrapping
FP
3rd sg. –t
Modals
TP
Participle affixes (ge/-t) Auxiliary haben ‘have’
AgrP
Agreement (2nd sg. –st)
Copula sein ‘be’
CP
Object clitics (-s/-n)
Complementizers
George
consciously
learned
these two
paradigms.
Detecting triggers
 For us, triggers are among the morphological (verbal)
elements which start to become productive in a learner’s
speech before s/he posits new functional projections
 They are robust (but does this equate to salience?) in the
input
 Longitudinal data required for examining such causal
effects: morphosyntactic and phonological data
 The VYSA have been orthographically transcribed
 They have not yet been phonetically transcribed
When the data are phonetically transcribed, they
can be donated to PHON
 PHON: MacWhinney & Rose’s CHILDES-inspired data
management tools for contribution of data to PhonBank.
 PhonBank: overwhelmingly covers L1 phonology
 What’s the ideal longitudinal L2A study for PhonBank?
 Ortega & Iberri-Shea (2005) emphasize the need to gain a
sufficiently lengthy picture in order to observe development
 Expected time-scale for emergence of investigated
phenomenon/a determines study length/session frequency
 Although the boy in Winitz et al.’s study was tracked for 62/3
years, native production was attained after 1 year…
 Emergence varies: re-examine cross-sectional data, including
the details of participants’ input quantity and quality
Data from longitudinal studies not on phonology
 Data collected for morphosyntactic analysis have been only
orthographically transcribed
 PHON only requires phonetically transcribed data, so recordings needn’t
be of quality required for acoustic analysis
 If state-of-the-art recording equipment (including analogue) has been
used to enable transcription of TL- and non-TL-like inflectional
morphology
 And the usual care has been taken when recording
 And if storage of recordings has been careful --- and it has been for the
VYSA data --- then such data can be phonetically transcribed and
analyzed to shed light on phonological development from the initial
state onwards and on the role of phonology in triggering
morphosyntactic development.

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