Chapter One Introduction
1.1 Purpose of the Study
In many nationwide English Speech Competitions, it is obvious that the Northwestern competitorscould rarely be at the top of the list. It is mainly because the Northwestern competitors usually speakunnaturally and lack self-confidence.Meanwhile, in the teaching of phonetics, the author of this thesis has noticed one phenomenon, i.e.,the students can master the correct pronunciation of the individual phonemes in the segmental phonology,while they could have many problems in the suprasegmental phonology.At the same time, some foreign teachers complain that it is hard to understand the Chinese studentswhile they are speaking. It is also easily found that there is a gap between the native speakers of Englishand the pronunciations of English made by Northwestern Chinese EFL learners, which causes thedifficulties in intelligibility from both sides.All these puzzles motivate me to explore this field.
1.2 Significance of the Study
Pronunciation and intonation is a basic course for English majors. In foreign language teaching, it hasbeen regarded as the footing stone and the starting point. At the same time, intonation is one of theindispensable elements in interactive verbal communication. English intonation is mainly used to conveythe information, indicate the speaker’s attitude and clear up ambiguities, which serves as a crucial elementof communication. The incorrect use of intonation will prevent listeners from catching the exact meaning,sometimes may even cause misunderstanding. Using wrong intonation may be bearable, but what makethings worse is that it may destroy a potentially successful talk with too many misunderstandings anddifficulties (O’Connor 1973). Lantolf (1976, p.272) contended that “native speakers of the language viewthe novice speaker at best with suspicion and at worst with ridicule and hostility”. This advocates thatintonation, which has always had its effect on communication, is of great significance for a language.However, the teaching and learning of English pronunciation, especially the teaching and learning ofEnglish intonation, has been a comparatively weak point in EFL education in Northwestern China for manyyears due to various reasons. Over the past 50 years English pronunciation learning has experienced upsand downs in the world. The majority of the previous studies on English pronunciation and intonationlearning for Chinese students usually describe the common problems that the majority of Chinese studentshave and the researchers mainly focus on segmental aspect while suprasegmental aspect does not receive somuch attention. There have been only several researches on Chinese EFL learners' intonation patterns, evenless on Northwestern Chinese EFL learners’. So it is really necessary and crucial to compare NorthwesternChinese EFL learners’ English intonation pattern with that of native speakers’ by acoustic measurement,and then to analyze the possible reasons for the problems.
Chapter Two Literature Review
2.1 Studies on EFL Learners’ Intonation Abroad
There are not so many studies on foreign EFL learners’ intonation. Most of these relativelycomprehensive researches are descriptive studies, which are of the Japanese, Finnish, Spanish, Slovakian,and Thai EFL learners’ intonation. All those researches endeavor to give an accurate description of EFLlearners’ intonation patterns. These researches share some universality and individuality. All the subjects of the above studies are college students. They don’t learn any other foreign languagesexcept English, and the majority of them have no experiences of living abroad. Therefore, their Englishintonation patterns are representative of the general model.Tonality, tonicity and tone are the three aspects the above studies highlight.As to tonality, researchers find that the division of intonation units of learners and native speakersmainly coincide with syntax (Wennerstrom, 1994; Timkova, 2001; Toivanen, 2003; Verdugo, 2003), butthere are more tonic feet in the intonation unit among the EFL learners (Wennerstrom, 1994; Mimatsu,2000; Timkova, 2001; Verdugo, 2003).In respect of tonicity and stress distribution, the nuclei are mostly found on the marked words, such asthe known information, the final reporting phrases, and the pronouns of tag questions (Verdugo, 2003;Wennerstrom, 1994). For native speakers, the pitch opposition is the signal of discourse relationshipsbetween information structure and grammar structure. They are very attentive to those signals. For thisreason, if learners could not clearly identify the boundary or pitch accent, it would be difficult for nativespeakers to comprehend. Meanwhile, if learners are not sensitive to those intonation clues, they would failto get much important information in discourse structure (Wennerstrom, 1994).
2.2 Studies on EFL Learners’ Intonation at Home
Studies on the intonation patterns of Chinese EFL learners can be assorted into two categories: one isdescriptive study: researchers try to explain the problems and mistakes appeared in Chinese EFL learners’intonation production by comparing the intonation systems of English and Chinese. The other conductsempirical study to recover those problems.For quite some time, English teachers who teach phonetics and oral English, have noticed someproblems in Chinese EFL learners’ oral production, especially in their intonation. Some researchers (WangFengling, 2003 and Wen Jindong, 1995) attribute these problems to futile intonation teaching while manyother researchers believe that Chinese EFL learners’ poor performance in intonation is mainly due to thenegative interference of their mother tongue (Pan Huahui, 1994; Huang Yiling &Yang Peicong, 1997;Zhang Yiming, 2001; Chen Wenkai, 2002; Li Jianbing & Ma Jing, 2003; Dou Yan, 2003).Wang Guizhen (1992) made a comparative study about Chinese speakers and English speakers’ pitchmovement in their read speech. She observes that the length of unstressed syllables in Chinese speakers’production is often longer than that of the English natives. And the pitch range of Chinese speakers inChinese reading is obviously narrower than that in their English reading. Finally, she also notices that thepitch pattern positively correlates with the speaker’s English level. By analyzing and comparing recordingsof students’ dialogue reading and interview with native speakers, Tao Rui (2007)found out that ChineseEFL learners’ intonation patterns have the following five features: A)shorter tone units, B)comparativelymore words or syllables prominence within tone units; C)placing prominence to most words instead ofselective-meaning words; D)selecting of proclaiming tone in the context where the native British speakerstend to select referring tone; E)conformity to the native speaker in adopting the proclaiming tone. Reasonsfor such features mentioned above are ascribed to Chinese EFL learners’ English proficiency level and theirlack of discourse intonation awareness.
Chapter Three Theoretical Framework.... 14
3.1 System of English Intonation.... 14
3.2 Halliday’s 3T System .... 16
3.3 Summary........... 17
Chapter Four Methodology...... 18
4.1 Research Questions....... 18
4.2 Subjects....... 18
4.3 Reading Material..... 19
4.4 Instruments........ 19
4.5 Data Collection ....... 22
4.6 Prosodic Labeling Procedures......... 22
4.7 Data Analysis .... 26
4.8 Summary........... 27
Chapter Five Results and Discussions....... 28
5.1 Features of Northwestern Chinese EFL Learners’ Tonality ...... 28
5.2 Features of Northwestern Chinese EFL Learners’ Tonicity ...... 30
5.3 Features of Northwestern Chinese EFL Learners’ Tone Selection........ 32
5.4 Data Analysis of the Questionnaire....... 34
5.5 Summary........... 36
Chapter Five Results and Discussions
5.1 Features of Northwestern Chinese EFL Learners’ Tonality
As to the first research question “what are the features of Northwestern Chinese EFL learners’tonality”, two main differences are observed between the production of Northwestern Chinese EFL learnersand the native speakers, concerning the dividing of intonation phrases. In this section, it first discusses thedifference in pauses at intonation phrase boundaries, and intonation phrases follows. The approaches to realize the intonation phrases or the acoustic cues appeared at intonation phrasesboundaries are quite different. Excessive use of pauses is observed in the Northwestern Chinese EFLlearners while native speakers rely on not only pause, but also pitch reset.In reading, or in speaking prepared texts, most intonation group boundaries are clearly marked, buteven with the most experienced readers and speakers, there are many cases where it remains hard to decidewhether a boundary is present or not. However, the external criteria (phonetic cues, such as pause,anacrusis, lengthening) and researchers’ perceptions provide the basis for tone grouping. The followingtable gives the percentage of the four phonetic cues (pause, anacrusis, lengthening, and pitch reset) whichare used by native speakers and Northwestern Chinese EFL learners.
The purpose of the present study is to observe the intonation patterns of Northwestern Chinese EFLlearners on the basis of Halliday’s Tonality, Tonicity, and Tone theory. The recordings of 10 English nativespeakers are taken as reference frame and forty Northwestern Chinese EFL learners from differenteducational levels are invited to read the same material. After annotation, comparisons are made betweenintonation patterns of English native speakers and those of Chinese learners. The main findings are listed asfollows in accordance with the four research questions.