My research interests are focused on the perception and production of suprasegmentals (ie. intonation, stress, rhythm, that sort of thing), and I am currently focused on these from the perspective of second language learners.
When we learn how to speak our first language, and we learn its contrasts and rules, we are specially wired to do it automatically. We also do it pre-linguistically (since we don’t know any languages by then). But when we study a second (or third, or fourth) language we need to go through the same process again, but now we need to do it from the starting point of the languages we know, and compensating for how much less prepared we are in general to acquire new languages later in life.
For my PhD, I’m looking at the perception and production of lexical prominence in Japanese and Spanish as second languages, studied by native speakers of Spanish and Japanese respectively. Even though the sounds in these two languages are rather similar, their grammar and syntax are very different, as are their ways to mark prominence. However, under certain circumstances, second language learners have very little difficulty perceiving it…
I want to know why this is. What is it that makes it easy in some conditions and hard in others, and how we can make it easier for students to learn these in the future. Maybe while doing this we’ll learn something about the stress in these languages as well.
You can find more detailed information in my academic résumé.