Segmental or suprasegmental, which comes first in L2 acquisition? Evidence from L2 European Portuguese

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


In the last decade, attention has been given to effectiveness of perceptual training in the acquisition of L2 segmental and suprasegmental features. However, little has been done in investigating the interaction between segmental and suprasegmental properties in L2 phonological acquisition. The
present study aims at investigating the hierarchy in the acquisition of word stress and vowels by Hungarian learners of L2 European Portuguese (EP), as EP presents an interesting relation between segmental and suprasegmental features, with vowel reduction in unstressed position.
Previous studies demonstrated that Hungarian listeners show difficulties in the categorization of specific EP vowels (Tavares et al., 2022), as well as stress ‘deafness’ (Peperkamp et al., 2010). For this study, forty-two Hungarian learners initiating an EP course were recruited, reporting little or no previous contact with EP. Participants were divided in two groups: group ExpV (n = 20) was trained in EP vocalic contrasts, in a monosyllabic context (e.g., [zɐ]/[zɛ]), while group ExpS (n = 22) was trained with trisyllabic nonwords contrasting in stress location, cued by segmental duration (e.g., ['zituli]/[zi'tuli] and [zi'tuli]/[zitu'li]). Training programs consisted of six fifteen-minutes sessions, completed within 6 weeks. All participants completed the same pre-test, consisting of an oddity
discrimination task for vowel and stress contrasts. Post-test consisted of a repetition of the pre-test, followed by a generalization test with novel nonwords produced by novel speakers.
A linear mixed effect analysis was conducted comparing error rates from the pre-test, post-test, and generalization test. A significant Training × InterventionGroup interaction effect was found (F(5, 210) = 3.34; p < .005), with pairwise comparisons showing that post-test scores were significantly
higher than pre-test scores only in the stress discrimination trials from group ExpS (p < .001). No significant differences were found between the scores of the pre-test and the generalization test, in either of the groups.
The results suggest that, in the first 10 weeks of exposure to EP, Hungarian learners were able to improve in stress but not in vowel discrimination. Two possible explanations can be provided. First, since vowel length is contrastive in the learners’ L1, it may have led to more easiness in improving discrimination marked mainly by durational contrasts. Second, results suggest that, similar to L1 acquisition (Post & Payne, 2018), suprasegmental features are first acquired in L2. The fact that neither group showed improvement that could be detected in the generalization trials indicates that a six-session training may not be sufficient to develop abstract representations, transferable to novel item.
Period14 Jul 2023
Event titleL2 Portuguese @ Lancaster
Event typeConference
LocationLancaster, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational