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Second language learners (in)ability to use prosody as a morphology predictor

Sabine Gosselke Berthelsen1,2 & Line Burholt Kristensen2

1 Department for General Linguistics and Phonetics, Lund University; 2 Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen

Predictions in language are formed at many levels and various parts of the linguistic input can function as predictors. Sentences and contexts, for instance, facilitate predictions of semantic concepts or words, while prosodic cues such as pauses or pitch can predict sentence or word structure (DeLong et al., 2005; León-Cabrera et al., 2017; Roll et al., 2011; Roll, 2022). For Danish native speakers (L1s), interactions between voice quality and word endings facilitate the latter type of prediction (Basbøll, 2003; Hjortdal et al., 2022). A creaky vowel (stød) in hus ‘house’, for example, predicts the definite suffix ‑et and the possessive clitic -s but not the plural suffix -e, which is realised with modal voice. Little is known about how second language learners (L2s) interact with the predictive prosody.

In an online psycholinguistic study, we investigated whether L2s use voice quality predic­tively. 40 L1s and 40 German L2s of Danish (beginner to advanced) listened to nouns where prosody-morphology patterns were correct (e.g., creak+singular) or incorrect (e.g., creak+plural). They indicated via button press whether the word was singular or plural. Previous studies found delayed grammatical decisions indicative of surprise and reanalysis when prosody-based predictions were not met (Clausen & Kristensen, 2015; Roll, 2022). In our study, we saw decreased response times for L1s only. L2s, irrespective of proficiency, were not inhibited by non-associated endings suggesting that they did not use the prosodic cues predictively. Instead, the L2s used voice quality as an additional grammatical marker when grammatical suffixes were difficult to differentiate.

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  • Hjortdal, A., Frid, J., & Roll, M. (2022). Phonetic and phonological cues to prediction: Neurophysiology of Danish stød. Journal of Phonetics, 94(101178). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wocn.2022.101178
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