Vol. 3. No. 4 A-1 January 1999
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Neural Plasticity and the Issue of Mimicry Tasks in L2 Pronunciation Studies

Yvonne F. Stapp
Gaikokugo Center
University of Tsukuba, Japan


In second language research, the ability to mimic foreign words is frequently cited as evidence for neural plasticity. However, if the type of neural plasticity related to language acquisition is not manifested in mimicry, the assumed connection is questionable. In an investigation of the relationship between mimicry skill and neural plasticity, 28 monolingual Japanese subjects age 4-17 repeated a list of simple English words containing /r/ and /l/. Analyses were made of individual and age-group scores, and the consistency of individuals' pronunciation across word tokens. In the aggregate, the adolescents proved superior to the children. However, only one adolescent actually scored high enough to qualify as a good mimic. The results here suggest that mimicry ability is not related to age, but is really a talent available to particular individuals throughout life. This is different from the neural plasticity which gives young children a long-term advantage in L2 pronunciation, whether or not they are good mimics at the outset.

Keywords: pronunciation, acquisition, ESL, EFL, mimicry

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