Learning the Sounds of Silence: Adult acquisition of Kaqchikel (Mayan) plain and glottalized stop consonants

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This thesis explores the third language acquisition of Kaqchikel, a Mayan language Indigenous to what is now called Guatemala, by analyzing the perception of the language’s stop consonants by multilingual Spanish-English learners of Kaqchikel. Spanish, as a voicing language, contrasts voiced stops from voiceless stops. English, as an aspirating language, contrasts aspirated stops from unaspirated stops. Kaqchikel, meanwhile, presents these learners with yet a third Laryngeal contrast, between glottalized stops and plain stops. Additionally, while both Spanish and English contrast three places of articulation among their stops, Kaqchikel contrasts four places. I analyze the differences and similarities among these languages’ phonologies by assuming a Feature Geometry framework. With this background, I investigate whether L1 Spanish, L2 English learners of L3 Kaqchikel differ from L1 English, L2 Spanish learners of L3 Kaqchikel in their perception of the stop consonants of their target language. The results of a stop discrimination task indicate minimal differences between the two learner groups. However, on a categorization task, more substantial differences between the two learner groups emerge. While L1 English learners are able to accurately categorize each of the eight Kaqchikel stop phonemes of Kaqchikel into their respective phonemic categories, including the novel glottalized and uvular stops, L1 Spanish learners are significantly less accurate in categorizing Kaqchikel stops. Their poor performance on this task is driven by their roughly chance performance in categorizing uvular stops; they perform much better with other Places. The two learner Groups, against predictions, do not differ based on the stimulus stop’s Laryngeal feature. To explain these surprising results, I propose that both groups are able to redeploy knowledge of underlying Laryngeal dimensions in order to provide an adequate structure for the novel glottalized stops of Kaqchikel. For the novel uvular stops, however, only the L1 English learners are able to redeploy knowledge of the Tongue Root dimension, while L1 Spanish learners maintain underlying structures that fail to distinguish between velar and uvular stops in Kaqchikel. This explanation integrates several different phonological analyses to account for predictions made by phonetic-based models of assimilation in second and third language acquisition.
phonology, third language acquisition, laryngeals, Kaqchikel language, Spanish language, English language
Nelson, B. C. (2023). Learning the sounds of silence: adult acquisition of Kaqchikel (Mayan) plain and glottalized stop consonants (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca.