The Influence of Aspects of Social Identity on the Development of L2 Phonology

  • Jenia Yudytska
Keywords: style shifting, lifespan change, intraspeaker variation, sociophonetics, sociolinguistics, ethnicity


Over time, second language (L2) speech production changes as the learner gains more experience with the language. Factors such as interaction with native speakers of the learner’s  L2 are known to play an important role. It is less clear to what extent, if at all, aspects of social identity influence the development of the L2 (Hansen Edwards 2008:372– 373). This longitudinal study examines the development of the actor Jackie Chan’s L2 (English) phonology. His speech production in two time periods 9 years apart is contrasted: in 1998, before he gained success in the English-speaking world; and in 2007, after he had released multiple Hollywood blockbusters.

To check that factors such as age of acquisition were not the only reason for a lack of alignment over time towards English native-speaker norms, another context was taken from 2007, namely, an interview with a French native speaker. In foreigner-directed speech, there exists a pressure to produce more standard variants (Zuengler 1991:234). If Chan uses fewer non-standard variants with a non-native English speaker than with a native English speaker, it would imply that there is some degree of intent in his usage of non-standard forms and that his development, or lack thereof, is not only due to uncontrollable factors of second language acquisition.

Two variables are examined: his production of stops in word-final codas containing a single stop and in wordfinal consonant clusters containing a stop as the final consonant. Native speakers of English generally pronounce these stops, whereas native speakers of Chinese often simplify them by deleting or glottalising them (Setter et al. 2010:15, Hansen 2001:340).

In 2007, Chan is found to use a greater rate of the standard non-simplified variant than previously; however, he also simplifies his pronunciation by deleting the stop in the codas more often than in 1998. He uses standard forms that align with English native speakers to a greater extent when talking to non-native speakers. After 9 years of working in Hollywood, he would have gained more experience with English due to his social network consisting of more English native speakers, resulting in the expected increased alignment with native-speaker norms. However, his English has developed so that the non-standard variant of deletion is also used to a greater extent; the usage of this variant emphasises Chan’s identity as a Chinese native speaker. This emphasis is possible because of his success in between the two time periods: not only does he no longer have to align as much as possible with English native speakers so as to appeal to the English-speaking market, his success as a specifically Chinese martial artist means that highlighting his identity as a Chinese native speaker has more linguistic capital. Thus, it seems that factors of an L2 learner’s social identity do indeed influence the acquisition and development of their L2.


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How to Cite
Yudytska, J. (2006). The Influence of Aspects of Social Identity on the Development of L2 Phonology. Lifespans and Styles, 2(2), 28-35.