Speech perception and L2 phonological acquisition

The purpose of this paper is to draw attention to the research on speech perception and to summarize some recent work that attempts to explore how these findings may help to clarify certain unresolved problems in general phonological theory and L2 phonological acquisition. As for phonological theory, the issues discussed include the ontogenesis and the phylogenesis of the universal set of sound contrasts used in natural human languages, some relationships between perception and production, the continuity issue, and biological underpinnings of phonological acquisition. As for L2 acquisition, the findings from speech perception are particularly relevant for equivalence classification, explanations of age and foreign accents, as well as certain points of methodology.

The theoretical framework is the Universal Theory of Language Acquisition (UTA). Its basic assumption is that there should be no discontinuities with respect to the language learning abilities across different language domains, such as L1 acquisition, L2 acquisition, language change, or self-monitoring.

The paper starts with a discussion of continuity/discontinuity with respect to language acquisition research and language change. Next a model of speech perception is proposed that traces the development of speech perception from neonates and infants to children and adults and that integrates L1 and L2 acquisition. Then various implications and some research tasks are pointed out followed by a brief conclusion.

P. Jordens & J. Lallemann (Hg.), Investigating Second Language Acquisition. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 321-353, 1996.