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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Alexander KAUTZSCH

Is it British or American? The acquisition of a non-native accent by advanced German learners

Abstract/Résumé: Since British (BrE) and American English (AmE) are the envisaged models for most German learners of English, this paper addresses the question of how successful these learners are in acquiring a British or an American accent and where L1 transfer comes into play. The present contribution focuses on three salient pronunciation differences between BrE and AmE: rhoticity, the BATH vowel, and the pronunciation of the lexical sets LOT and THOUGHT (cf. Wells 1982). In these contexts, learners aiming at AmE can be expected to realize non-prevocalic /r/ as an approximant and the BATH vowel as [æ], and to merge LOT and THOUGHT as either [ɑ:] or unrounded [ɔ:]. By contrast, learners aiming at BrE will not produce the approximant, have [ɑ:] in BATH, and a clear distinction between [ɒ] in LOT and rounded [ɔ:] in THOUGHT. One of the findings is that in principle German learners, irrespective of their L1 accent, are more successful in aiming at the British system. This is probably due to the fact that British BATH, LOT and THOUGHT and British non-rhoticity are more similar to the German system, allowing for positive L1 transfer (cf. Major 2008). Aiming at AmE, on the contrary, requires the acquisition of "new" features, like consistent rhoticity, an un-German [æ] in BATH, and an un-German (near-) merger of THOUGHT and LOT. Despite this tendency, however, transfer does not seem to be the most prominent force. Learners in both target accent groups and at both proficiency levels fail to be consistent, displaying rhotic and non-rhotic realizations of 'r', as well as BATH, LOT and THOUGHT vowels whose acoustical properties are neither BrE nor AmE nor German in nature. This mixture of features, an empirical manifestation of interlanguage (Selinker 1972), might best be interpreted as a result of a low level of awareness (e.g. Schmidt 2010) of the systematic differences between BrE and AmE in endstate learners. References: Major, R. C. 2008. "Transfer in second language phonology. A review." In: J.G. Hansen Edwards and M.L. Zampini, eds. 2008. Phonology and Second Language Acquisition. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 63-94. Selinker, L. 1972. "Interlanguage". International Review of Applied Linguistics 10: 209–231. Schmidt, R. 2010. "Attention, awareness, and individual differences in language learning". In W. M. Chan, S. Chi, K. N. Cin, J. Istanto, M. Nagami, J. W. Sew, T. Suthiwan and I. Walker. Proceedings of CLaSIC 2010, Singapore. Singapore: National University of Singapore, Centre for Language Studies, 721-737. Wells, John C. 1982. Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.