Lexical schwa and inserted schwa produced by Mandarin Chinese EAL learners

Xiaoqian Guo, Akitsugu Nogita


This study examines different types of vowel/schwa insertion in L1 illegal English consonant clusters by Mandarin Chinese (MC) English-as-an-additional-language (EAL) learners, as well as differences and similarities in phonetic qualities among inserted vowels by MC EAL learners, lexical schwas by MC EAL learners, and lexical schwas by native Canadian English (CE) speakers. This study has conducted a reading, a repetition and two syllabification tasks with 6 intermediate MC EAL speakers and 3 native CE speakers. There are three main findings. 1) Even with written cues, 2 MC EAL speakers likely have underlying vowels, which do not exist in native English speakers’ UR; other 3 MC speakers may have inserted excrescent schwas due to gestural mistiming rather than phonological schwas, and 1 MC speaker may have inserted excrescent schwas, because he likely has had extraprosodic consonants that are not linked to the syllable nodes. 2) English lexical schwas produced by CE speakers tend to be more variant in the second formant (F2) than those produced by MC learners, and lexical schwas by MC EAL learners have been occasionally rhotacized and deleted/devoiced. 3) MC EAL learners have not quite explicitly understood the English syllable structures, even though some of them are aware of the presence or absence of vowels. Based on the findings, this paper proposes that it is important for instructors and learners to aware that language learners may have several different error types in the production of consonant sequences. Meanwhile, MC EAL learners may benefit from explicitly knowing the concept of English syllables.


English consonant cluster, schwa insertion, excrescent schwa, extraprosodic consonant, Mandarin Chinese EAL learners,

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Working Papers of the Linguistics Circle

EISSN: 1920-440X
ISSN: 1200-3344

University of Victoria