Date of Award

5-1-2014

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Applied Linguistics

First Advisor

Berry, James

Abstract

The main goal of this study is to investigate the difficulties of acquiring tense/lax /i, I/ and /u, U/ contrasts by adult Arabic speakers learning English as a Second Language (ESL). Twenty Saudi ESL subjects, 16 male and 4 female, produced a list of 20 English monosyllabic words in a carrier sentence. Target vowels were preceded and followed alternately by consonant stops (e.g., /bVb/, /bVt/, /bVd/, /bVk/, /bVg/). The productions were analyzed acoustically for vowel quality and length. The results of the study revealed that most subjects had difficulties acquiring tense/lax contrasts. Their realization of the target vowel /i, I/ and /u, U/ were assimilated to their first language (L1) short vowel counterparts /i/ and /u/ respectively. However, advanced second language (L2) learners tended to produce slightly separate spectral contrasts specifically with front vowels, whereas durational differences of tense/lax contrasts were still affected by durational differences of Arabic long-short contrasts. Additionally, target back vowel contrasts were more difficult to acquire for both beginners and advanced learners. The study suggested that L2 participants were focusing on quantity rather than quality to acquire the target vowels. Orthography was observed affecting L2 production of vowel contrasts, especially with beginners. These findings have been found to support Flege's (1995) Speech Learning Model and Eckman's (1977) Markedness Differential Hypothesis.

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