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The Attainment of an English Accent

British and American Features in Advanced German Learners


Alexander Kautzsch

This book investigates inconsistencies in the accent adopted by advanced German learners of English with respect to differences between standard American and British English (rhoticity, t-voicing, the vowels in the lexical sets «bath», «lot» and «thought»). From a theoretical point of view, the volume contributes to understanding the status of L1 transfer in language learners at «ultimate attainment», a stabilized, late stage in language acquisition. Unlike in many studies in second language acquisition, the approach taken here is variationist, taking into account extra- and intra-linguistic factors as potential explanations for variability. The findings suggest that in addition to the target accent the strongest external factor is time spent abroad, while L1 accent and proficiency level seem to have minor impact only.

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2 Variation, transfer and ultimate attainment in second language acquisition


As addressed in the introduction, the study at hand intends to investigate L1 transfer at ultimate attainment by means of an empirical analysis of advanced German learners of English aiming at a British English (BrE) or an American English (AmE) accent. To that end, this chapter reviews the central notions of L1 phonological transfer (2.2) and ultimate attainment (2.3) in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research. But to begin with, a survey of SLA research will be given with special reference to variation in learner language (2.1), since a variationist methodology is deemed most appropriate in the present context.

Eckman (2012) divides SLA research into two larger phases: the time before and after the formulation of the interlanguage hypothesis (ILH) by Selinker (1972) (cf. Eckman 2012: 94)1. The “pre-ILH” phase (Eckman 2012: 92) is characterized by the idea that the learner’s native language (NL) plays a crucial role in explaining errors in the target language (TL). This was most prominently investigated within the framework of the contrastive analysis hypothesis (CAH; cf. Lado 1957), which “claimed that NL-TL differences, along with L1 transfer, were paramount in accounting for L2 utterances” (Eckman 2012: 92). Over time, however, it emerged that differences between NL and TL and L1 transfer alone could not account for all peculiarities of the L2. Thus, additional factors have been identified, such as similarities between NL and TL or language universals like, e.g., markedness (cf. Eckman 2012: 93), an account of which will be given...

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