An OT Account of the Second Language Acquisition of Mandarin Tone Pairs

Hang Zhang
2014 Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Acquisition of Second Language Speech Concordia Working Papers in Applied Linguistics   unpublished
This study examines the second language (L2) productions of Mandarin Chinese tone pairs made by learners with L1 backgrounds of American English, Tokyo Japanese, and Seoul Korean. Research data show that the Tonal Markedness Scale (TMS) and Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP) constrain L2 tone acquisition. The systematic error and substitution patterns (i.e., more T1-T1 productions than T4-T4, and in turn more than T2-T2) found in the word-level tonal productions are analyzed within the
more » ... within the framework of Optimality Theory. The patterns are attributed to either a case of "emergence of the unmarked" due to interacting effects of the TMS and the OCP, or to local conjunction of the TMS. The pitch of the voice plays a different role in tonal and non-tonal languages. While pitch patterns are specified mainly at the lexical level in tonal languages (such as Mandarin), in intonation languages, pitch gives meaning at post-lexical (phrase and sentence) levels, independent of the words' meanings (Gussenhoven, 2004). The more or less complicated tonal specifications in different types of languages pose difficulty in the second language acquisition (SLA) of Mandarin tones. This study Hang Zhang 784 examines Mandarin tone acquisition by learners with L1 backgrounds of American English, Tokyo Japanese and Seoul Korean (henceforth English, Japanese and Korean). The present study examines the disyllabic tonal productions made by these learners and pays particular attention to the error and substitution patterns of tone pairs. The Full Transfer/ Full Access model of SLA proposes that L1 and L2 acquisition differ with respect to starting point, but are similar with respect to Universal Grammar (UG) involvement (Schwartz & Sprouse, 1996). "Full Access" means that properties of UG not exemplified in the L1 are assumed still to be available to constrain interlanguage grammars. That is, when the L1 grammar is unable to accommodate the L2 input, the learner resorts to UG options. Following this model, the present study hypothesizes that some universal phonological constraints, such as the Tonal Markedness Scale (TMS) and Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP), constraint the SLA of Mandarin tones, although they may not have strong effects in L1s and L2. The present study tests for the evidence of TMS and OCP effects through a phonological experiment and analyze the data within the framework of Optimality Theory (OT, Prince and Smolensky, 1993; McCarthy and Prince, 1993). The majority of SLA studies within OT focus on L2 syllable structures (e.g., Hancin-Bhatt & Bhatt, 1997, 2000; Broselow et al., 1998; Hayes, 1999). Broselow et al. (1998) introduce the notion of "the emergence of the unmarked" (TETU, McCarthy and Prince 1994) to the study of L2 syllable structures, but the situation of TETU in SLA and L2 learners' access to UG is still under investigation in the study of L2 phonology. This study extends the research of TETU in SLA to the topics of lexical tone acquisition and explores the tonal interlanguage properties. It is found that while some new tone structures are equally "bad" (not allowed) in L1s, the L2 tonal data demonstrate systematic error and substitution patterns reflecting the effects of universal phonological constraints outside the scope of L1 transfer. The asymmetry of high falling tone pairs (T4-T4) and rising tone pairs (T2-T2) found in this study provide evidence for the emergence of interacting effects of the TMS and the OCP. BACKGROUND AND PREDICTIONS