First language attrition: An investigation of Taiwanese tones and tone sandhi

by Chang, Yufen, Ph.D., INDIANA UNIVERSITY, 2012, 290 pages; 3527527


First language (L1) attrition research focuses on syntactic and morphological deterioration in environments where L1 'attriters' rarely have contact with their L1, such as immigrants. There is no study that investigates L1 attrition in tones and in contexts where L1 can still be often heard. This study examines this attrition type in Taiwan, where the attriters cannot speak their L1 Taiwanese fluently and have become L2-Mandarin dominant after five years old. Taiwanese, a tonal language with seven tones, involves a complicated, pervasive sandhi system. Mandarin, also a tonal language with only four tones, has a simple, limited tone sandhi rule. This dissertation investigates L1 attriters' Taiwanese tonal system by evaluating tonal attrition hypotheses based on five L1 attrition proposals in the literature. The data in this study are composed of natural speech and questionnaire data for phonological and sociolinguistic analyses respectively. In addition to attriters' data, this research included data provided by older L1 Taiwanese non-attriters and younger L1-Taiwanese L2-Mandarin bilinguals. The phonological results show that the Taiwanese tones and tone sandhi are still at the attriters' command (approximately 90% accurate). With one of the tone sandhi rules, the attriters' tone accuracy is even higher than the non-attriters' and bilinguals'. This discrepancy reflects an ongoing language change the attriters do not participate in. Therefore, when encountering the tone sandhi rule undergoing change, the attriters are conservative using the rule acquired early on although it is used less by the non-attriters and bilinguals. Although the attriters have become L2 Mandarin dominant, L2 interference is not observed. This suggests that L2 Mandarin does not affect L1 Taiwanese tonal attrition. Given these findings, the L1 Taiwanese tonal attrition hypotheses referencing L2 cannot account for the attriters' system. Rather, attrition hypotheses referencing L1 acquisition are more successful at accounting for the attriters' tonal system.

AdviserStuart Davis
Source TypeDissertation
Publication Number3527527

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