Ellen Guigelaar: dissertation defense (July 7)

Ellen Guigelaar defended her dissertation with the title "Processing of English Focal Stress by L1-English and L1-Mandarin/L2-English Speakers" on Friday, July 7. Congratulations!
Late second language (L2) learners often struggle with L2 prosody, both in perception and production. This may result from first language (L1) interference or some fundamental aspect of the language system of late learners. Here we particular, this thesis compares L1-Mandarin/L2-English and native/L1-English speakers’ perception and production of English focal stress.
Our first two experiments targeted the perception of prosody, and the third targeted production. The two perception studies used high temporal resolution experimental methodologies – event related potentials (Exp. 1) and eye-tracking (Exp. 2). The ERP experiment probed question-induced focus and prosodic marking of accent, monitoring brain responses during detection of question/answer incongruities. The eye-tracking experiment targeted accent marking in the scope of the focus-sensitive element only. Eye-movements were monitored while participants performed an auditory/visual truth value judgment task. In a related production experiment (Exp. 3), participants were given a written sentence whose meaning hinged on focal stress. Their attention was then directed to a picture which depicted one of two possible interpretations, and they were tasked with producing the sentence so it would describe/match the picture. Responses were recorded and analyzed.
Though L2 learners exhibited poorer performance comprehending and producing focal stress, they could nonetheless perform at advanced levels. However, online (ERP/eye-tracking) measures show a delay in processing of focal stress and a lack of interaction effects between Focus and Accent that obtains in natives In production, L2 learners produced weaker, but in several ways ‘native-like’, focal stress including an L1 pattern of not distinguishing nominals in the second position of ditransitives via prosody independent of expected focus (i.e., an interaction between focus-marking and word order). The combined findings show that though late L2 learners can perceive and utilize prosodic accent, they have difficulty integrating that information in incremental/real-time processing. Further, effects of Age of Acquisition, but not proficiency, on some of our observed response profiles are discussed in the context of Critical/Sensitive Periods in second language acquisition.