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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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8 Conclusion and outlook


Although advanced learners of a second language may “have had years of input and have achieved nativelike abilities in a range of areas”, they may “persist in nonnativelike behaviors” (Herschensohn & Young-Scholten 2012). In view of a high amount of L1 transfer in beginning learners, it has been asked what the status of L1 transfer would be at a stage at which the L2 has stabilized. For phonological L2 acquisition it has been claimed by Major (2001) that L1 transfer decreases as proficiency increases, unless similarity between L1 and L2 results in persistent L1 transfer.

Since “nonnativelike behaviors” in the pronunciation of highly proficient learners usually do not show in the form of stereotypical learner errors, this study analyzed the inconsistent British or American pronunciation of students of English at university level on the basis of salient differences between the two major reference varieties, i.e. rhoticity, linking , t-voicing, the BATH vowel and the LOT/THOUGHT distinction.

Taken together, the objectives of the study were twofold: to describe the attainment of a British and an American accent by advanced German students and to examine the status of L1 transfer (and its relation to similarity) at a stabilized stage of L2 phonological acquisition. The findings can be summarized comprehensively as follows: German speakers of English who aspire to an AmE or a BrE accent show clear differences in their pronunciation of features distinguishing the two native accents. They attempt approximations to their targets but...

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