A longitudinal study on the role of lexical stress and motivation in the perception and production of L2 Spanish stop consonants
Nagle, Charles Leo
This study investigated the perception and production of two L2 stop consonants, examining the importance of lexical stress and motivation to learners' ability to discriminate and produce Spanish /b/ and /p/. Longitudinal data was collected from 26 English-speaking adults enrolled in a second-semester Spanish course at the time of recruitment. On five occasions over a year-long period spanning nearly three semesters of Spanish instruction, participants completed a discrimination task and two production tasks: a sentence formation task and a sentence reading task. Once per semester, they also completed a language contact questionnaire, a quantitative motivation questionnaire operationalizing aspects of the L2 Motivational Self System (Dörnyei, 2009), and a qualitative questionnaire eliciting information on their language learning goals and beliefs.For each of four contrasts crossing stress and position in the word, I calculated d' as a measure of participants' ability to discriminate the stops (Macmillan & Creelman, 2005). On the production data, I took VOT measurements from word-initial targets and C:V intensity ratio measurements, which index degree of lenition (Hualde, Simonet, & Nadeu, 2011), from word-medial targets using Praat software (Boersma & Weenik, 2012).In characterizing the findings, both accuracy and stability were taken into account. Learners developed short-lag /p/ more quickly than lead-lag /b/, but the lead-lag category proved more resilient after a brief hiatus from Spanish during Winter Break. In contrast, there was little development of word-medial stops at the group level, though some individuals succeeded in producing targetlike C:V intensity ratios, indicating that they had acquired the phonological distribution of stops and approximants in Spanish. Consequently, phonetic detail (i.e., VOT) may be easier to acquire than phonological alternations (i.e., lenition).Regarding stress and motivation, the primary predictors of interest, the former was more related to performance and the latter to development. Participants' discriminated stops more readily in stressed syllables and produced medial /b/ with greater degrees of lenition in unstressed syllables. In terms of motivation, a stronger ideal L2 self was negatively related to VOT development. This finding suggests that at lower instructional levels, learners likely prioritize grammar and vocabulary, potentially excluding pronunciation from their motivational systems.
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