A Study on the Acquisition of Phonotactics by Second and Third Language Learners

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This study aimed to see whether there was a difference between second and third language learners with regard to the acquisition of new phonotactic knowledge. It did so by comparing native speakers of American English who were learning Italian as a second language with those who were learning Italian as a third language. These participants were asked in an online task to listen to Italian sounding non-words presented as auditory stimuli and to write down the first syllable. The target items started with the clusters /zb/, /zm/ and /zv/, which are all attested in Italian but in few other languages. The mean accuracy scores showed no difference between the second and third language learners. Accuracy scores were also calculated for each consonant cluster, which did not provide support for the Sonority Sequencing Principle. Additionally the responses were coded based on which strategy was used to cope with the unknown consonant clusters following Davidson (2006), which showed that both groups followed the same distribution of strategies, with Segment change as the most used strategy. Keywords: Third language acquisition, second language acquisition, L3 phonology, phonotactics, sonority sequencing principle, use of strategies, American English, Italian.
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