Structural and conceptual bias in the English speech production of native speakers of (Mandarin) Chinese and Arabic
Professor Roger Hawkins, University of Essex
SEAS, Seminar Room A06 -
In speech production, speakers often have more than one syntactic
'frame' available to them to encode the message they want to
communicate. For example, if I want to report that I saw a boat carrying
wood, I can say either (1a) or (1b):
1a The boat carried the wood.
b The wood was carried by the boat.
Existing studies of speech production in native speakers of English
have found that they have an inherent structural preference for the
active frame (1a) over the passive frame (1b), all things being equal.
However, when things are not equal, in particular when one of the
participants in the message is animate and the other inanimate, this
structural preference is overridden. Native speakers prefer a syntactic
frame where the animate participant comes first, even if this means
producing a passive. That is, they prefer (2b) over (2a):
2a The boat carried the sailor.
b The sailor was carried by the boat.
We all know that in speech production second language (L2) speakers
typically diverge from native speakers in fluency and target-like
grammatical accuracy (sometimes even when they are highly proficient and
long immersed in the L2). One of the goals of L2 research is to
identify the source of such divergence. One possibility is that
divergence might arise in speech production planning (rather than in
grammatical or lexical knowledge per se). Non-native speakers may have
different structural and conceptual biases in speech production by
comparison with native speakers, and it is this that causes divergence.
In this talk I report the findings of a study of English speech
production in native speakers of (Mandarin) Chinese and Arabic (compared
with a control group of native speakers). The focus is on the
production of active-passive pairs like those illustrated in (1-2), and
dative double object-prepositional object pairs like The bookshop sent
the customer the book/The bookshop sent the book to the customer.
Results suggest that the L2 speakers, even those of only intermediate
proficiency in English, are not qualitatively different from native
speakers in the planning mechanisms that underlie their speech
production. This implies that the source of the divergence in speech
between L2 speakers and natives is not located at the levels of speech
production planning targeted in the study.
Roger Hawkins is a Professor in the Department of Language and
Linguistics at the University of Essex. His research interests are in
how people acquire and use grammatical knowledge in second languages. He
is a former editor of 'Second Language Research' (Sage Publications)
and the 'Journal of French Language Studies' (Cambridge University
Press), is the author of 'Second language syntax: a generative
introduction', 'Approaches to second language acquisition' (Multilingual
Matters) and 'French grammar and usage' (Hodder) (the last two
co-authored with Richard Towell), and has published numerous articles on
second language acquisition.