Speech rhythm and VOT in multilingual foreign language learners

Christoph Gabriel (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)
10 octobre 2017, 14h0015h00

While recent studies in L3 phonology largely focus on the consecutive learning of foreign languages (Llama et al. 2010 ; Wrembel 2014), little is known about the acquisition of L3 phonology in learners who acquired more than one language during early childhood. This particularly holds for foreign language learning in multilingual speakers who speak a so-called heritage language (Valdés 2000) in addition to their dominant language. In my talk, I will present data produced by adolescents who speak Chinese, Russian or Turkish as an HL along with German and take English, French and/or Russian courses at school. Control-data from monolingually raised German learners are taken into account. In addition to the recordings, extra-linguistic data were collected from all participants (background questionnaire, semi-focused interview, phonological awareness test following Osburne 2003). I will focus on the outcomes of (completed and ongoing) research on two related phenomena, namely global speech rhythm and Voice Onset Time (VOT ; Lisker & Abramson 1964). The results obtained from the analyses performed on the speech data show cross-linguistic influence (CLI) in terms of both positive and negative transfer from the HLs, which may constitute a multilingual advantage depending on the characteristics of the interacting languages. The extra-linguistic data indicate that positive transfer from the HLs is favored by the learner’s language attitudes as well as by their individual degree of multilingual and phonological awareness. By and large, I interpret the findings as evidence to suggest that multilingual and phonological awareness should be promoted in school education.


  • Lisker, L. & Abramson, A. S. 1964. A cross-language study of voicing in initial stops. Word 20, 384–422.
  • Llama, R., Cardoso, W. & Collins, L. 2010. The influence of language distance and language status on the acquisition of L3 phonology. International Journal of Multilingualism 7, 39–57.
  • Osburne, A. G. 2003. Pronunciation strategies of advanced ESOL learners. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching 41, 131–141.
  • Valdés, G. 2000. Teaching heritage languages : An introduction for Slavic-language-teaching profes-sionals. In O. Kagan & B. Rifkin (Eds.), Learning and teaching of Slavic languages and cultures : Toward the 21st century. Bloomington : Slavica, 375–403.
  • Wrembel, M. 2014. VOT patterns in the acquisition of third language phonology. Concordia Working Papers in Applied Linguistics (COPAL) 5, 750–770.

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