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An acoustic analysis of the production of word- initial stop /p/ by late Arab bilinguals

The aim of this study is to examine the production of the word-initial stop /p/ by Arabs speaking English as a second language (L2). Arabic was chosen as a counter language since its phonetic contrasts between voiced and voiceless sounds differ from English. The data was collected from 50 participants, consisting of one group of highly qualified Arabs (n= 30 bilinguals) living in London for 10 years, and two groups of baseline speakers (n= 10 for inexperienced native Arabic and native English baseline groups, respectively). The production of /p/ by late Arab bilinguals (who learned English after puberty) was elicited via three oral tasks. Acoustic analysis was conducted to measure the voice onset time (VOT) value of /p/. VOT is defined as the length of time between the release of a stop consonant and the onset of vocal fold vibration. Research shows that length of residence (LOR), level of education, quality and quantity of input and rigorous usage of L2 are more important than AOA (Age of Acquisition) in enabling L2 learners to achieve native speaker-like pronunciation of the sound /p/, although for late Arab bilinguals the overall results demonstrated that AOA is a key predictor of L2 sounds. The final results demonstrate that the production of /p/ by late Arab bilinguals differed significantly from that produced by inexperienced Arabs. Late Arab bilinguals managed to establish new phonetic categories for English /p/ that does not exist in their language (L1). However, their production of /p/ deviated from that of native English speakers. Only nine out of 30 late Arab bilinguals were able to achieve native speaker-like pronunciation of /p/.

KEYWORDS: pronunciation, bilingualism, late learners, Arabs, voiceless consonant, voice onset time, (VOT)

Sawsan Askoul. Holds a Master’s degree in Bilingual Translation from the University of Westminster and a second Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics & Communication from Birkbeck College, University of London. Postgraduate research student specialising in phonetics and phonology, investigates the English sound system produced by native Arabic speakers. In her current study, she is aiming to reverse the process by scrutinising Arabic speech sounds produced by native English speakers learning Arabic as a foreign language in the UK.

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