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Non-native pronunciations of English: Wikis


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Non-native pronunciations of English result from the common linguistic phenomenon in which non-native users of any language tend to carry the intonation, phonological processes, and pronunciation rules from their mother tongue into their English speech. They may also create innovative pronunciations for English sounds not found in the speaker's first language.



The speech of non-native English speakers may exhibit pronunciation characteristics that result from such speakers imperfectly learning the pronunciation of English, either by transferring the phonological rules from their mother tongue into their English speech ("interference") or by implementing strategies similar to those used in primary language acquisition.[1] They may also create innovative pronunciations for English sounds not found in the speaker's first language.[1] The age at which speakers begin to immerse themselves into a language (such as English) is linked to the degree in which native speakers are able to detect a non-native accent; the exact nature of the link is disputed amongst scholars and may be affected by "neurological plasticity, cognitive development, motivation, psychosocial states, formal instruction, language learning aptitude," and the usage of their first (L1) and second (L2) languages.[2] English is unusual in that speakers rarely produce an audible release between consonant clusters and often overlap constriction times. Speaking English with a timing pattern that is dramatically different may lead to speech that is difficult to understand.[3] More transparently, differing phonological distinctions between a speaker's first language and English create a tendency to neutralize such distinctions in English,[4] and differences in the inventory or distribution of sounds may cause substitutions of native sounds in the place of difficult English sounds and/or simple deletion.[5] This is more common when the distinction is subtle between English sounds or between a sound of English and of a speaker's primary language. While there is no evidence to suggest that a simple absence of a sound or sequence in one language's phonological inventory makes it difficult to learn,[6] several theoretical models have presumed that non-native speech perceptions reflect both the abstract phonological properties and phonetic details of the native language.[7]

The English dialect in which second language learners are exposed to may also be a factor. In some places that were formerly under British rule, such as India, Hong Kong, Malaysia,and Ghana, the English language remains a mandatory subject in the schools and the accents of such students show influences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from British English.

Such characteristics may be transmitted to the children of bilinguals, who will then exhibit a number of the same characteristics even if they are monolingual.[8]



  • Speakers tend to speak with a rhotic accent and pronounce /r/ as a flap or trill.[9]


  • Because of the phonetic differences between English and French rhotics, speakers may perceive /r/ as /w/-like and have trouble distinguishing between /r/ and /w/.[10]
  • French speakers have difficulty with /h/ and systematically delete it.[11]



  • The lack of discrimination in Hebrew between short and long vowels makes correctly pronouncing English words such as hit/heat and tap/top difficult.[12]
  • Dental fricatives–/ð/ (as in "the") and [θ] (as in "think") –are often mispronounced.[12]
  • Hebrew speakers may confuse /w/ and /v/.[12]
  • In Hebrew, word stress is usually on the last (ultimate) or penultimate syllable of a word; speakers may carry their stress system into English, which has a much more varied stress system.[12] Hebrew speakers may also use Hebrew intonation patterns which mark them as foreign speakers of English.[12]


  • The dental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ may be replaced by [s̻] and [d̪][13]


A study on Italian children's pronunciation of English revealed the following characteristics:[14]

  • Tendency to replace the English high lax vowels /ɪ/ /ʊ/ with [i] [u] (ex: "fill" and "feel", "put" "poot" are homophones), since Italian doesn't have these vowels.
  • Tendency to replace /ŋ/ with [ŋɡ] ("singer" rhymes with "finger") or as [n] (combined with the above tendency makes the words "king" and "keen" homophones) because Italian [ŋ] is an allophone of /n/ before velar stops.
  • Tendency to replace word-initial /sm/ with [zm], e.g. small [zmɔl].
  • Tendency to replace /ʌ/ with [a] so that mother is pronounced [ˈmadər] or [ˈmaðər].
  • Italian does not have dental fricatives:
    • Voiceless /θ/ may be replaced with a dental [t̪] or with [f].
    • Voiced /ð/ may become a dental [d̪].
  • Since /t/ and /d/ are typically pronounced as dental stops anyway, words like there and dare can become homophones.
  • /æ/ is replaced with [ɛ], so that bag sounds like beg [bɛɡ].
  • Tendency to pronounce /p t k/ as unaspirated stops.
  • Schwa [ə] does not exist in Italian; speakers tend to give the written vowel its full pronunciation, e.g. lemon [ˈlɛmɒn], television [tɛleˈviʒɒn], parrot [ˈpærot], intelligent [inˈtɛlidʒɛnt], water [ˈwɔtɛr], sugar [ˈʃuɡar].
  • Italian speakers may pronounce consonant-final English words with a strong vocalic offset, especially in isolated words, e.g. dog [dɒɡᵊ]. This has led to the stereotype of Italians adding [ə] to the ends of English words.
  • Tendency to pronounce /r/ as a trill [r] rather than the English approximant /ɹ/, e.g. parrot [ˈpærot].

In addition, Italians learning English have a tendency to pronounce words as they are spelled, so that walk is [wɒlk], guide is [ɡwid], and boiled is [ˈbɔɪlɛd]. This is also true for loanwords borrowed from English as water, which is pronounced [vatɛr] instead of [ˈwɔːtə]. Related to this is the fact that many Italians produce /r/ wherever it is spelled (e.g. star [star]), resulting in a rhotic accent, even when the dialect of English they are learning is nonrhotic. Consonants written double may be pronounced as geminates, e.g. Italians pronounce apple with a longer [p] sound than English speakers do.


  • Speakers tend to confuse /l/ and /r/ both in perception and production,[15] since the Japanese language does not make such a distinction. The closest Japanese phoneme to either of these is /ɺ/, though speakers may hear English /r/ as similar to the Japanese /w/.[16]


  • There is no /w/ in Russian; speakers typically substitute [v][17]
  • Native Russian speakers tend to produce an audible release for final consonants and in consonant clusters and are likely to transfer this to English speech, creating inappropriate releases of final bursts that sound overly careful and stilted and even causing native listeners to perceive extra unstressed syllables. [18]


  • Since Spanish does not make voicing contrasts between its fricatives (and its one affricate), speakers may neutralize contrasts between /s/ and /z/; likewise, fricatives may assimilate the voicing of a following consonant.[19]
  • Speakers tend to merge /tʃ/ with /ʃ/, and /dʒ/ and /ʒ/ with /j/.[19]
  • /j/ and /w/ often have a fluctuating degree of closure.[19]
  • For the most part (especially in colloquial speech), Spanish allows only five (or six) word-final consonants: /s/, /n/, /r/, /l/ and /d/ (plus /θ/ in Castilian Spanish); speakers may omit word-final consonants other than these.[20]
  • In Spanish, /s/ must immediately precede or follow a vowel; often a word beginning with [s] + consonant will obtain an epenthetic vowel (typically [e]) to make stomp pronounced [esˈtɑmp] rather than [stɑmp].[21]
  • In Spanish, a voiceless dental fricative /θ/ phoneme exists only in the Northern Peninsular dialect; where this sound appears in English, speakers of other Spanish dialects substitute /t/, /s/ or /f/ for it.[19]
  • Speakers tend to merge /ð/ and /d/, pronouncing both as voiced dental plosive unless they occur in intervocalic position, in which case they are pronounced [ð].[22] A similar process occurs with /v/ and /b/.[19]
  • The three nasal phonemes of Spanish neutralize in coda-position; speakers may invariably pronounce nasal consonants as homorganic to a following consonant; if word-final (as in welcome) common realizations include [n], deletion with nasalization of the preceding vowel, or [ŋ].[19]


Note: There are two main dialects in Vietnamese, a northern one centered around Hanoi and a southern one centered around Ho Chi Minh City.

  • Speakers may not produce final consonants since there are fewer final consonants in Vietnamese and those that do exist differ in their phonetic quality:[23]
    • Final /b/ is likely to be confused with /p/
    • Final /d/ is likely to be confused with /t/
    • Final /f/ is likely to be confused with /p/
    • Final /v/ is likely to be confused with /b/ or /p/
    • Final /s/ is likely to be confused with /ʃ/ or simply omitted
    • Final /ʃ/ is likely to be omitted
    • Final /z/ is likely to be confused with /ʃ/ or /s/
    • Final /tʃ/ is likely to be confused with /ʃ/
    • Final /l/ is likely to be confused with /n/
  • Speakers also have difficulty with English consonant clusters,[24] with segments being omitted or epinthetic vowels being inserted.[25]
  • Speakers may not aspirate initial /t/ and /k/, making (American) listeners perceive them as /d/ and /ɡ/ respectively.[26]
  • Speakers often have difficulty with the following phonemes:[27]
    • /θ/, which is confused with /t/ or /s/
    • /ð/, which is confused with /d/ or /z/
    • /p/, which is confused with /b/
    • /ɡ/, which is confused with /k/
    • /dʒ/, which is confused with /z/
    • /ʒ/, which is confused with /z/ or /dʒ/
    • /s/, which is confused with /ʃ/
    • /tɹ/, which is confused with /dʒ/, /tʃ/ or /t/
    • /v/, which is confused with /j/
    • /ɪ/, which is confused with /i/
    • /ʊ/, which is confused with /u/ or /ʌ/
    • /ɛ/, which is confused with /æ/
    • /æ/, which is confused with /ɛ/ or /ɑ/
  • Vietnamese is a tonal language and speakers may try to use the Vietnamese tonal system or use a monotone with English words. They may also associate tones onto the intonational pattern of a sentence and becoming confused with such inflectional changes.[28]

See also



|year=1999 |chapter=The role of L1 and of teaching in the acquisition of English sounds by francophones

Further reading

  • Wiik, K. (1965). Finnish and English Vowels: A comparison with special reference to the learning problems met by native speakers of Finnish learning English. Turku: Annales Universitatis Turkuensis.  

External links

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