This study investigates the pronunciation of morphemic -s in L2 English by L1 French, L1 Italian and L1 Spanish learners. Morphemic -s can be a flectional suffix expressing plurality, 3rd person, genitive, or clitic forms of is and has. Phonologically, it is subject to a progressive voice assimilation rule, and is therefore pronounced as /s/ in front of voiceless consonants, and /z/ in front of vowels and voiced consonants. A comparative analysis of L1 French, L1 Italian and L1 Spanish learner speech productions is especially interesting due to the phonological and morphological characteristics of these three L1s.
From a morphological perspective, the -s suffix exists in French and Spanish to mark plurality (but it is often silent in French), but not in Italian, which marks the plural with a synthetic morpheme expressing number and gender (e.g. tavoli ‘tables’). Phonologically, French has a phonemic contrast opposing /s/ and /z/, Northern Italian has [s] and [z] as contextual allophones (the latter being used before another voiced segment 1), and Spanish only has /s/, with non-obligatory full or partial assimilation of voice from the following consonant in syllable coda, especially in casual speech 2. From a phonotactic point of view, French allows word-final /s/ and /z/, Italian allows word-final /s/ (although infrequent) but not /z/, while Spanish allows /s/ (see above for non-obligatory assimilation).
Given these facts, and given the higher relative markedness of /z/ in word-final position with respect to /s/ 3, we hypothesize that L1 French and L1 Italian learners will find it easier than L1 Spanish learners to reproduce the outcome of the voice assimilation rule.
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