Accuracy and stability in English speakers’ production of L2 Japanese pitch accent

Dr Becky Muradás-Taylor

Standard Japanese uses pitch accent to distinguish words such as initially-accented hashi ‘chopsticks’ and finally-accented hashi ‘bridge’. The aim of this project is to investigate to what extent English-speaking learners of Japanese produce Japanese words with accurate and stable Standard Japanese pitch accent. In addition, the project will investigate how pitch accent accuracy and stability are affected by amount of Japanese experience, i.e. hours of Japanese language instruction and time spent in Japan, and whether pitch accent accuracy and stability vary between learners.

This project complements previous research on the perception of pitch accent by English-speaking learners of Japanese, which has shown large individual differences in learners’ ability to identify different accent types which do not seem to correlate with proficiency or amount of Japanese experience, and broadens our understanding of individual differences and the effect of experience on the acquisition of lexical prosody, which has so far focussed more on stress and tone than on pitch accent.

Data for this project was collected from 21 speakers of Standard Southern British English studying Japanese at UK universities. The 13 less-experienced learners had not yet spent their year abroad and had received an average of 250 hours of Japanese language instruction. The 8 more-experienced learners had received an average of 970 hours of Japanese language instruction and had spent at least 10 months in Japan on a study abroad year. They read aloud 180 words in three contexts, in isolation (e.g. ame ‘rain’), before a function word (e.g. ame da ‘it’s rain’) and before a content word (e.g. ame ga furu ‘rain falls’). The accent types they produced were identified by phonetically-trained Japanese speakers and were analysed for accuracy and stability across the three contexts.

Outputs (so far)

Taylor, B. (2011). Do English learners of Japanese produce isolated nouns with Standard Japanese lexical accent? Second Language, 10, 15–31. URL:

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