Candidate: Jennifer Mah
When: Monday 12/5, 12:15pm
Where: Education Building, 431
Title: Segmental representations in interlanguage grammars: the case of francophones and English /h/

The concept that knowledge is transferred from a speaker’s first language grammar into the interlanguage grammar being constructed for his second language makes testable predictions for how learners should behave given certain combinations of first and second language. This thesis examines the perceptual and productive abilities of francophones in order to gain insight into why francophones encounter such persistent difficulty in their acquisition of English /h/. We will see that although the target representation of English /h/ is not a structure that can be acquired by francophones, there are a  number of representational options for the phonetic segment [h] that will yield the same acoustic result, and (at least) one of these is predicted to be acquirable. The observation that francophones do not seem to have access to any representation for this segment in the grammar these is therefore puzzling.

The experimental work reported in this thesis begins by refuting the possibility that the acoustic properties of [h] are such that francophones cannot reliably detect this segment in the speech stream. We then go on to show that the problem is indeed a matter of linguistic representation in the grammar: francophones are unable to construct phonological representations containing /h/ in lexical entries. Finally, evidence from a production task is examined, showing that francophones’ behaviour in supplying aspiration on voiceless stops matches the profile for suppliance of /h/, supporting the proposal of a common representational problem. Further, francophone productions of /h/ are examined and argued to shed light on the question of why alternate representations for /h/ are unavailable to the interlanguage grammar: it is not being analyzed as a consonant, but as a partially devoiced vowel.