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LINGUIST List 18.2781

Tue Sep 25 2007

Diss: Lang Acq/Phonology/Psycholing: Messum: 'The Role of Imitation...'

Editor for this issue: Luiza Newlin Lukowicz <luizalinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Piers Messum, The Role of Imitation in Learning to Pronounce

Message 1: The Role of Imitation in Learning to Pronounce
Date: 24-Sep-2007
From: Piers Messum <p.messumgmail.com>
Subject: The Role of Imitation in Learning to Pronounce
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Institution: University of London
Program: PhD Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2007

Author: Piers Messum

Dissertation Title: The Role of Imitation in Learning to Pronounce

Dissertation URL: http://p.messum.googlepages.com/downloads

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Dissertation Director:
Michael Ashby
Brenda Cross

Dissertation Abstract:

Timing patterns and the qualities of speech sounds are two important
aspects of pronunciation. It is generally believed that imitation from
adult models is the mechanism by which a child replicates them. However,
this account is unsatisfactory, both for theoretical reasons and because it
leaves the developmental data difficult to explain.

I describe two alternative mechanisms. The first explains some timing
patterns (vowel length changes, 'rhythm', etc) as emerging because a
child's production apparatus is small, immature and still being trained. As
a result, both the aerodynamics of his speech and his style of speech
breathing differ markedly from the adult model. Under their constraints the
child modifies his segmental output in various ways which have effects on
speech timing; but these effects are epiphenomenal rather than the result
of being modelled directly.

The second mechanism accounts for how children learn to pronounce speech
sounds. The common, but actually problematic, assumption is that a child
does this by judging the similarity between his own and others' output, and
adjusting his production accordingly. Instead, I propose a role for the
typical vocal interaction of early childhood where a mother reformulates
('imitates') her child's output, reflecting back the linguistic intentions
she imputes to him. From this expert, adult judgment of either similarity
or functional equivalence, the child can determine correspondences between
his production and adult output. This learning process is more complex than
simple imitation but generates the most natural of forms for the underlying
representation of speech sounds. As a result, some longstanding problems in
speech can be resolved and an integrated developmental account of
production and perception emerges.

Pronunciation is generally taught on the basis that imitation is the
natural mechanism for its acquisition. If this is incorrect, then
alternative methods should give better results than achieved at present.

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