In their article, Eckman and Iverson (2013) present the research conducted to confirm or deny particular hypotheses regarding the acquisition of the contrast between English [s] and [ʃ] among native speaking Koreans and Japanese. The authors provide adequate literature research and explain the background, clearly identify the topic and hypotheses, describe the study itself and discuss its findings; although the article does have some drawbacks, it is still a well-written one.
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Summary of the Article
The study by Eckman and Iverson (2013) focuses on the way how the contrast between [s] and [ʃ] (as in English words sip versus ship, for instance) is manifested in the native languages of the participants. Although in both languages, the phones [s] and [ʃ] are present, and both in Korean and Japanese /s/ is pronounced as [ʃ] before the high front vocoids, the significant difference can be observed.
While this rule is allophonic in Korean ([s] and [ʃ] are distinguished as the allophones of /s/), it is neutralizing in Japanese (the contrast between these two sounds is merged). In both languages, s-palatalization can be observed but it is manifested in different ways.
Considering all of this, Eckman and Iverson (2013) state that Korean and Japanese are expected to have different paths in acquiring the contrast between [s] and [ʃ], as well as make different types of mistakes. In other words, the mistakes and the way, in which every participant will acquire the contrast, are predictable due to the character of the same contrast in their native languages.
The authors assume that Korean participants will apply the rule of perceiving [s] and [ʃ] as allophones of /s/ to English words, which, as a consequence, will lead to errors. Japanese, on the contrary, will apply the rules of their own language, which result in other errors. As the authors conclude, Korean participants will make so-called NL transfer errors when /s/ is pronounced as [ʃ] before high front vowels while Japanese participants will make hypercorrection errors when /s/ is pronounced as [s] even when it should be pronounced as [ʃ].
On the basis of these statements, hypotheses are created. To test those, the authors have chosen 49 learners of English, 23 of whom are Japanese and 26 of whom are Koreans. To gather data, the stimuli of 90 words and a program created in MATLAB have been used. The last one was needed to communicate with the participants: show a set of pictures and give commands, such as Wait or Speak, for example.
The data was recorded at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and after that it was transmitted to the Ohio State University where the assistants who received it knew nothing about the hypotheses. In the end, the hypotheses turned out to be correct.
Critique of the Article
To start with, Eckman and Iverson (2013) clearly initiate the topic, tell why the study is important and prove that the same issue has not been addressed yet. Besides, the article has a precise structure and is organized conveniently. It is easy to navigate, even though the article is quite long.
The introduction is not lengthy and contains all important ideas of the study, which are discussed briefly and laconically. The background part is rather important: it provides both good literature research showing what has already been done on this topic and explains particular characteristics of Korean and Japanese languages, which are needed for the study. It should be noticed that only relevant characteristics are provided, without any redundant information.
The study is described clearly and in details. No questions have arisen regarding the way in which the study was carried out or how the participants were chosen. Additionally, the level of language of the respondents is indicated. As for the research itself, it was conducted wisely.
The authors’ aim was indeed to test hypotheses, not just confirm them. All data gathered during the study was transmitted to assistants who knew nothing about the hypotheses created by the authors. Hence, the final conclusion was drawn based on bare facts, without any bias.
However, the study also has several drawbacks. First of all, specialized terminology usually is not identified, which is why an individual without more or less deep knowledge in the topic will need to conduct additional research to define unknown words and concepts. Secondly, while the research itself is described in details, the methodology is not clearly determined. The article does not tell about the research method or research design, for example.
Finally, no limitations or constraints of the study are identified, as well as no directions for the further research are suggested. For example, knowing how the contrast between [s] and [ʃ] is acquired among native speaking Koreans and Japanese, the authors could have suggested what other aspects of the same languages should be investigated or what other languages should be taken into account.
Still, all of the drawbacks mentioned above are insignificant and do not deny the importance of the study conducted by Eckman and Iverson (2013). The article can serve as a strong base for further research and has already been cited in several related works.
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Eckman, F., & Iverson, G. K. (2013). The Role of Native Language Phonology in the Production of L2 Contrasts. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 35(1), 67-92.