If you are reading this book, you are likely a second/third language learner curious about her or his pronunciation, a linguist, psychologist, or other researcher interested in issues of bi/multilingualism and learning with a particular focus on speech, or both. Regardless of your interests, there are likely to be various aspects of your own speech or that of non-native speakers that have struck you and that you wish to understand better. In this book, we will investigate what is commonly referred to as foreign accent, the various differences between the speech perception and production of non-native and (sometimes idealized) native speakers. Our goal is to provide you with an understanding of the principles and phenomena of second language (L2) speech perception and production, theories that have been developed to model these, and the experimental methodologies used to investigate both segmental (i.e., consonants and vowels) and prosodic phenomena (e.g., lexical stress or tone, rhythm, intonation, and fluency). Our hope is that, once you have finished reading this book, you will either have answers to your questions from previous research or, perhaps more importantly, the ability to conduct your own studies.
In this first chapter, we lay the foundation for the discussion in the entire book, focusing on the major theoretical and empirical questions that guide L2 research, particularly as concerns the acquisition of phonetics and phonology (§1.3). Each theme will be introduced via a series of research questions to be explored throughout the book followed by the presentation of an illustrative study. However, before discussing these central themes of L2 speech research, we first examine the basic structure of speech (§1.1) and a number of concepts relevant to any study of L2 acquisition (§1.2).
The structure of speech
Human speech is the focus of two major branches of linguistics, namely phonetics and phonology. Traditionally, these two subdisciplines have been distinguished in terms of their orientation to the study of spoken language. Phonetics investigates the physical aspects of sound. These include its production (articulatory phonetics), transmission (acoustic phonetics), and perception (perceptual phonetics).