Covert contrast in the acquisition of second language phonology

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This paper reports results on the acquisition of the English /s/ &#8211; /z/ phonemic contrast by native speakers of Spanish. The central finding is that some of the research participants exhibited a <i>covert</i> contrast between these segments in their interlanguage productions. Acoustic analysis revealed that four of the participants produced a statistically reliable distinction between English [s] and [z], however, this difference was not perceived by the transcribers who were phonetically trained, native speakers of English. The existence of a stage of covert contrast in L2 phonology is eminently plausible, given the progressive nature of phonological acquisition, and brings the learning of second-language contrasts into conformity with findings in the areas of L1 acquisition and phonologically disordered speech.


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