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The Attainment of an English Accent

British and American Features in Advanced German Learners

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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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4 The attainment of an English accent by advanced German learners: Research questions

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Having set the scene by surveying the notions of variability, L1 transfer, and ultimate attainment as well as by giving a detailed cross-linguistic comparison of the features under investigation, the present section serves to ask the relevant research questions.

By means of quantitative analyses of phonetic-phonological features, the present study aims at giving a detailed account of how closely advanced German learners of English approximate their respective self-chosen target accent with respect to four salient differences between British English and American English pronunciation (rhoticity and linking , t-voicing, the BATH vowel, and the LOT/THOUGHT distinction). In this context, it also sets out to investigate, if L1 transfer is still at work in experienced German speakers of English, i.e. after they have reached a phase of stabilized target-like attainment, and if L1 transfer facilitates or hinders the acquisition of a self-chosen target accent.

These questions will be tackled within a variationist framework and with respect to four extra-linguistic factors, the two target varieties, the speakers’ regional backgrounds, their proficiency levels, and their time spent in an English-speaking country.

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