Title

The Acquisition of Spanish Theta in a Study Abroad Context

Subject Area

Hispanic Linguistics

Abstract

This investigation addresses the need for further research in the area of the acquisition of dialectal features by second language (L2) learners of Spanish. Taking the popular notions associated with Castilian Spanish as its point of departure, this research examines the acquisition of the Spanish voiceless interdental fricative phoneme /θ/, or "theta", by American university students participating in a summer study abroad program in Spain. An experiment was conducted that compared the learners' pronunciation before and after studying abroad in order to evaluate the extent to which they incorporated theta into their L2 Spanish. Acoustic and quantitative analyses of speech data extracted from both a pretest and a posttest revealed that, although the group as a whole showed a significant increase in /θ/ after six weeks of exposure, its use was extremely variable with only 16 of the 23 participants producing this variant; moreover, no subject approached native speaker usage. This paper adopts a sociolinguistic theoretical framework that holds that variation is not random but rather conditioned by linguistic and social factors whose effects may be quantified to create a model of interlanguage that describes the occurrence of a linguistic variable in probabilistic terms. A variable rule analysis, as performed by GoldVarb X, was conducted to produce just such a model in order to assess the effect certain linguistic and social factors may have on promoting the pronunciation of /θ/. The results indicated that tonic stress, word position, lexical frequency, attitude toward acquiring a native or native-like pronunciation in Spanish, and degree of acculturation to the target culture were significantly related to the use of theta. These findings suggest that social as well as linguistic factors may play a role in promoting the use of theta and that explicit instruction in sociolinguistic norms, in addition to pronunciation instruction, may be necessary for students to adopt geographical features that differ in regard to prestige between a learner's native and target language.

Brief Bio Note

Professor Stevens received his doctorate in Spanish from the University of Southern California. He is currently an Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he teaches courses in Spanish language and linguistics. His research interests include Spanish dialectal variation and the acquisition of L2 Spanish phonology.

Keywords

Spanish Theta, L2 Spanish, GoldVarb X, Study Abroad

Location

Room 217

Presentation Year

March 2017

Start Date

3-24-2017 9:55 AM

Embargo

10-18-2016

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Mar 24th, 9:55 AM

The Acquisition of Spanish Theta in a Study Abroad Context

Room 217

This investigation addresses the need for further research in the area of the acquisition of dialectal features by second language (L2) learners of Spanish. Taking the popular notions associated with Castilian Spanish as its point of departure, this research examines the acquisition of the Spanish voiceless interdental fricative phoneme /θ/, or "theta", by American university students participating in a summer study abroad program in Spain. An experiment was conducted that compared the learners' pronunciation before and after studying abroad in order to evaluate the extent to which they incorporated theta into their L2 Spanish. Acoustic and quantitative analyses of speech data extracted from both a pretest and a posttest revealed that, although the group as a whole showed a significant increase in /θ/ after six weeks of exposure, its use was extremely variable with only 16 of the 23 participants producing this variant; moreover, no subject approached native speaker usage. This paper adopts a sociolinguistic theoretical framework that holds that variation is not random but rather conditioned by linguistic and social factors whose effects may be quantified to create a model of interlanguage that describes the occurrence of a linguistic variable in probabilistic terms. A variable rule analysis, as performed by GoldVarb X, was conducted to produce just such a model in order to assess the effect certain linguistic and social factors may have on promoting the pronunciation of /θ/. The results indicated that tonic stress, word position, lexical frequency, attitude toward acquiring a native or native-like pronunciation in Spanish, and degree of acculturation to the target culture were significantly related to the use of theta. These findings suggest that social as well as linguistic factors may play a role in promoting the use of theta and that explicit instruction in sociolinguistic norms, in addition to pronunciation instruction, may be necessary for students to adopt geographical features that differ in regard to prestige between a learner's native and target language.