Assessing knowledge of English intonation patterns by L2 speakers

Author(s): Peggy P. K. Mok, Yanjun Yin, Jane Setter and Noor Mat Nayan

Abstract

English intonation can be difficult for L2 speakers to learn, particularly for those whose L1 intonation system works differently from English. This study investigates whether Hong Kong English (HKE) speakers whose L1 is Cantonese have knowledge of the appropriate English intonation patterns in specific contexts. Results from an intonation pattern selection tasks indicate that HKE speakers (n = 40) performed worse than British English speakers (n = 25) in general. For some sentence types, selection patterns of HKE speakers and native English speakers were quite similar, while HKE speakers had particular difficulty with tag questions. The lack of equivalent structures in L1 may explain their difficulties. Interestingly, native English speakers also showed much variation in their intonation selection for some sentence types. The results suggest that HKE speakers have partial knowledge of English intonation patterns. The lack of sufficient knowledge, in addition to L1 influence, can explain the differences between native and L2 English intonation choices.

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