Probing rhythmic patterns in English-L2: a preliminary study on production data of Brazilian learners at different ages

Ronaldo Mangueira Lima Jr, Guilherme Duarte Garcia


Languages are traditionally classified as mora-timed, syllable-timed or stress-timed in relation to their rhythmic patterns. The distinction between syllable-timed and stress-timed languages, however, lacks solid evidence in the literature. Syllable-timed languages typically have similar duration across unstressed and stressed syllables, whereas stress-timed languages tend to have similar inter-stress intervals, and unstressed syllables are shorter than stressed syllables. According to this categorical classification, English is a stress-timed language, thus having more reduction in unstressed vowels. Brazilian Portuguese, on the other hand, is typically classified as syllable-timed, and thus has little reduction of unstressed vowels. If these categorical rhythmic differences are correct, then acquiring the rhythmic patterns of English should be a challenging task to Brazilian learners, who are not expected to produce unstressed vowels with as much reduction as English native speakers. However, recent studies have found that the typology of rhythm is best understood as not categorical, but rather gradient, and that Brazilian Portuguese has a mixed classification, with more stress timing than would be expected from a traditional and categorical perspective. We therefore hypothesize that Brazilian learners of English should not have major difficulties reducing unstressed vowels, even when exposed to the second language later in life. To test this hypothesis, we analyze production data of native speakers of English (control group) and of Brazilian advanced learners of English. The results show that neither group of learners is credibly different from the control group, which is consistent with the hypothesis that the mixed rhythm present in Brazilian Portuguese in fact facilitates the acquisition of the rhythmic patterns of English, a stress-timed language, at least in terms of unstressed vowel reduction.

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