Schwa-Deletion vs n-Deletion? At the intersection of generative and usage-based phonology (2016-2019)

As a postdoctoral researcher at the Fryske Akademy I investigate the phonology and phonetics of bilingualism. Native Frisian speakers are all bilingual with Dutch. To what extent does the sound system of Frisian influence the pronunciation of Dutch? And vice versa, to what extent does the sound system of Dutch influence the pronunciation–and in the long term–sound change of Frisian? By a series of experiments and the collection of corpora of spoken Frisian, I will study different aspects of the sound system of current spoken Frisian.

Chinese Accents and Accented Chinese (CAAC) 2014-2016

“Chinese Accents and Accented Chinese” explored the phonetics and phonology of bilingualism and second language acquisition in which Standard Mandarin was one of the languages involved.  We organized three workshops at the Nordic Centre, Fudan University, Shanghai, in 2014, 2015 and 2016, with speakers from different universities in China, as well as from Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden,  UK and the USA. We published proceedings in 2014 and 2015.

 

The projects covered the following three areas.

1. Chinese accents within China

Standard Mandarin is the lingua franca of China. But, across China, we also find a large number of dialects. That raises a number of questions that are often addressed in our workshops. How do native speakers of those dialects acquire the sound and tonal system of the Standard language? In which ways do the phonological processing of bidialectal and monolingual speakers in Mandarin differ? And how does one language influence the other within the same individuals? How are bi-dialectal speakers perceived by monolingual speakers of Mandarin? Another intriguing question addresses the effect of bidialectalism on the acquisition of a third language. Do Chinese bi-dialectal speakers have an advantage over monolingual Mandarin speakers, and if so, does this affect the whole process of acquisition or is it limited to specific sounds?

2. Chinese-accented L2 acquisition

English and other (European) languages are very popular studies among Chinese students. Given profound differences between the sound systems of Chinese languages and European languages, it is not surprising that a Chinese accent becomes often apparent. What are the characteristics of Chinese-accented English, French, German, and other languages? Moreover, since Chinese is a tone language with restricted possibilities for sentence intonation, the acquisition of sentence intonation in foreign languages in an interesting field of study. These questions are approached from perception as well as production, and second language processing. Another topic of interest is the mutual intelligibility of Chinese speakers of different L2s and the mutual intelligibility between Chinese learners of a particular language and native speakers of this language. Results are relevant for a deeper understanding of second language acquisition from both a linguistic as educational perspectives.

3.Second language accent in Chinese

Chinese as a second (or foreign) language attracts a steady increasing number of students in the European Union. The acquisition and processing of tone is notoriously difficult but has been investigated almost exclusively for American English native speakers. How speakers of other native languages acquire tone in Chinese is still very much unknown. Also unclear is how tone in connected speech is acquired. The acquisition of tone forms an important field to study from linguistic and pedagogical perspective. In addition: given the similarities and dissimilarities of a sound system of a particular native language and Chinese,  we ask the question which transfer effects can be expected and observed.

 

The workshops were sponsored by Aarhus University (Denmark), The Fryske Akademy (KNAW, The Netherlands), and local assistance from Shanghai International Studies University and Tongji University.

Paving the Way for a More Reliable Linguistics (2014-2015)

In this project I investigated the perception of linguistic transcribers. What is the effect of the native variety of a language on the perception of sounds among linguistic transcribers? How reliable are native speakers and second language speaking transcribers in their transcriptions? I approached these questions by a comparison of transcription tasks of Standard European French and Canadian French among native French speakers from France and from Canada as well as Dutch students of French linguistics. Results are forthcoming.

This research was funded through a MOBILEX mobility grant by the Danish Council of Independent Research, co-funded by the European Committee under Marie Curie FP7.

Frequency Effects and Phonological Grammar PhD (2009-2013)

In language change, we usually find that words with a relatively low word frequency change at a faster rate than words with a relatively high word frequency. Reversely, in  reduction processes, we observe that high-frequency words tend to change first and low-frequency words change later. How do these facts relate to variable processes in which neither analogical change nor reduction is involved? Does frequency also play a role, for instance, in stable patterns of variation or in loanword adaptation?

In my PhD dissertation I investigate phonological variation and change in three case studies: the pronunciation of the long vowel <ä> in Standard German, Dutch loanword integration in Indonesian, and sequential voicing in Japanese. It shows that frequency effects occur such that relatively high-frequency words adapt to a general phonological rule and relatively low-frequency words behave differently. This exceptional behaviour of low-frequency words may be related to their relatively unstable or opaque lexical representation or their opaque morphophonological structure.

This thesis also investigates the relation between frequency effects and grammar. It is shown that these two factors are not independent, as suggested by earlier literature, but, on the contrary, intimately related. Frequency effects are sensitive to grammatical structure. This calls for an amalgamation of phonological models which were previously regarded as disconnected.