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HL2C Seminar: Gabriela Tavares (NOVA), Phonological categorization of L2 Portuguese

Our next HL2C seminar will take place on Wednesday, October 20 from 12pm to 1pm UK time (same as Lisbon). This talk is a joint initiative with Lancaster’s SLLAT Research Group.


Gabriela Tavares (NOVA University Lisbon), Andrea Deme (Hungarian Academy of Sciences & Eötvös Loránd University), and Susana Correia (NOVA University Lisbon)


Phonological categorization of L2 Portuguese by Hungarian native speakers

How to join:

Our seminars are free to attend. Simply sign up to the HL2C Mailing List to receive the link to join us via Microsoft Teams link. You do not need a Teams account to access the talk.


Empirical observations in the classroom suggest that Hungarian learners of L2 European Portuguese (EP) have difficulties acquiring variable stress and vowel reduction – in particular the two EP reduced vowels [ɐ] and [ɨ] – since these are absent in the Hungarian phonological system [1]. These features are essential from an intelligibility perspective, since in EP stress is variable and lexically contrastive [2] and vowel reduction is found to be the main clue for stress perception in this language [3].

In this talk, we will present results of the first experiment of a larger project that seeks to develop pedagogical interventions that facilitate the acquisition of L2 Portuguese phonology. In this first step, we developed and empirically validated a forced-choice identification task to map the categorization of the EP oral vowels by Hungarian speakers in their native phonological system.

This presentation will report the results of this forced-choice identification task. Forty-six Hungarian native speakers (age range 18 to 45) took part in this experiment. One group (n=32) had no experience in learning EP; the other group (n = 14) consisted of learners of EP with approximately two semesters of language classes (n=14). A group with native Portuguese speakers with no previous contact with Hungarian (n=30) served as our baseline condition. Participants completed a forced- choice identification task that required them to identify different auditory tokens of the nine EP oral vowels, inserted in a [ɡV] context, among a set of real Hungarian words with a [ɡV]CV structure, presented orthographically in a grid.

We predicted that the ability of Hungarian native speakers to identify and discriminate contrastive EP sounds would depend on the phonetic proximity of EP vowels with Hungarian sounds [4, 5, 6]. Accordingly, we hypothesized that these speakers would categorize the unstressed vowel [ɐ] into /ɛ/, /eː/ or /ø/, and [ɨ] into /y/ or /ø/, as these are the closest L1 categories to the L2 vowels. We also expected some differences to occur after exposure to the target-language, and that these differences would be reflected in the categorization results. Results have partly confirmed the expectations, as [ɐ] was categorized into /ɛ/, but not into /eː/, and [ɨ] was categorized into /y/ and /ø/. A comparison of data in the two experimental groups suggests a learning effect for [ɨ], but not for [ɐ].

The data collected in this experiment shows overlapping situations in contrasts with [ɐ] and [ɨ]. According to the results, Hungarian speakers identify both non-native [ɐ] and [ɨ] into the single native category /ɛ/, which possibly causes discrimination difficulties [4]. As for [ɨ], considering that this segment is identified as a separated Hungarian category – /y/ or /ø/ –, discrimination of contrasts with this vowel won’t be problematic [4].

According to the above mentioned, an auditory perceptual training focused on tuning [ɐ] into a new category, separating it from /ɛ/, is expected to improve Hungarian speakers’ ability to perceive better this EP vowel. To test this hypothesis, we are currently designing a sequence of oddity discrimination tasks focused on the overlapping situations mentioned above. This perceptual training will be followed by Hungarian learners of L2 Portuguese within a 5-week timeframe.

[1] Markó A. (2017). Hangtan. In A. Imrényi, N. Kugler, M. Ladányi, A. Markó, Sz. Tátrai, & G. Tolcsvai Nagy (Eds). Nyelvtan (pp. 75–206). Budapest: Osiris Kiadó.

[2] Raposo, E., Nascimento, M. F., Mota, M. A., Segura, L., Mendes, A., & A. Andrade (Eds.) (2020). Gramática do Português. Vol. III. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

[3] Correia, S., Butler, J., Vigário, M. & S. Frota (2015). A stress “deafness” effect in European Portuguese. Language and Speech 58(1): 48–67.

[4] Best, C. T. (1995). A direct-realist view of cross-language perception. In W. Strange (Ed.). Speech perception and linguistic experience: Issues in cross-language research (pp. 171–204). Baltimore: York Press.

[5] Flege, J. E. (2003). Assessing constraints on second-language segmental production and perception. In N. O. Schiller & A. S. Meyer (Eds.). Phonetics and Phonology in Language Comprehension and Production: Differences and Similarities (pp. 319–355). Berlin: De Gruyter.

[6] Escudero, P. (2015). Linguistic Perception and Second Language Acquisition: Explaining the Attainment of Optimal Phonological Categorization. [Doctoral dissertation, Utrecht University, LOT Dissertation Series 113]. Repository: http://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/7349.

HL2C Seminars 2021-2022

It’s a pleasure to share the program of this year’s HL2C seminar series with you. We might still not be able to travel as easily as before, but in the meantime, we can meet digitally on a regular basis. 

Our program: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/heritage-language/seminars/ 

The program for 2021/2022 is not finalized yet, but we are excited about how it is taking shape. As you will see, there will be a mix between internal (HL2C) and external speakers, early-career and more senior researchers. The sessions will cover a wide range of themes (second and heritage language acquisition and teaching, bilingualism, etc.), different languages and populations of interest, and a variety of approaches (quantitative and qualitative), fully reflecting the broad interests of the HL2C member institutions. While most talks focus on research, we are also inviting other stakeholders (policy makers, non-profits, etc.) to do presentations. 

How to attend: All talks will take place via Microsoft Teams. We will circulate the link via the HL2C mailing list one week before the talk and send a reminder one day before the talk. To join the mailing list, please click here.

Talks will be delivered in English. The sessions should last one hour – about 40 minutes of talk, followed by 10 minutes of discussion. Some of the talks will be recorded and made available for viewing via the mailing list.

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