Learners' Errors on Japanese Vowel Length: A Study of Native Speakers of English and Chinese
Long vowels and short vowels contrast in Japanese. That is the length of vowels matters to word meanings. For example, a word containing a short vowel [i], ojisan 'uncle', carries a different meaning from a word containing a long vowel [ii], ojiisan 'grandfather'. On the other hand, English or Chinese does not have this contrast: no matter how long or how short one pronounces a vowel it does not change the meaning of the word. Because second language learning is interfered by the first language, recognizing and differentiating vowel length in Japanese are difficult for learners. In fact, learners whose native language is English or Chinese frequently make errors on vowel length.
In order to find when learners make errors on vowel length, I conducted an experiment, which investigates learners' phonological knowledge of the length of vowels in Japanese. 87 native speakers of English and 26 native speakers of Chinese, who have studied Japanese at a college, were asked to translate 46 English words to Japanese. The results of the experiment reveal that learners make more errors in the following environment.
Syllables that contain [o], such as [o] in [zisyo] ‘dictionary’, cause more lengthening errors than those with other vowels. Syllables that contain [oo], such as [oo] in [bangoo] 'number', cause more shortening errors than those with other vowels. I also argue that syllables that contain a palatalized segment (i.e. the [y] sound which is immediately preceded by another consonant such as the [y] in [ryokoo] 'trip') also result in more errors than those without it.
Makiko Asano (United States)
Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
San Francisco State University
(Virtual Presentation, English)