Previous second language (L2) acquisition research has assumed that L2 learners from a common first language (L1) have the same problems in an L2, ignoring the potential impact of a speaker's L1 dialect on L2 acquisition. This study examines the effects of L1 dialect on the acquisition of L2 German vowels. In particular, this thesis investigates two questions: 1) Do speakers from L1 dialects with vowel mergers perceive or produce vowel contrasts in the L1 and/or L2 differently than speakers from dialect areas without the same mergers? and 2) Are subjects' patterns of L1 perception or production paralleled in the L2? This thesis focuses on the vowel contrasts "pin"-"pen," "fail"-"fell," and "pool"-"pull"-"pole," which are merged (i.e., neutralized) in some environments in the Mississippi dialect, such that words like "him" and "hem" are heard or produced as the same word. Two groups of subjects participated: students from The University of Mississippi (the merging group) and students from Brigham Young University (BYU) (the non-merging group). Subjects completed a perceptual task and a production task. The perception task was a forced-choice identification task in which subjects heard English and German words and indicated which word they heard. In the production task, subjects read aloud German and English sentences. Results indicate that BYU subjects were significantly better than UMiss subjects at perceiving many vowel contrasts in English and German. Additionally, some perceptual patterns seemed to transfer to the L2, e.g., /ɪn/ and /ɛn/, were identified with similar accuracy in English and in German. In production, the groups differed significantly from each other in their production of many vowel contrasts, while acoustic analysis found no production mergers for either group in English or German. In two case studies, perception results and production results (as found by native speaker judgments), showed that vowel contrasts merged in English were also problematic in L2 German, though the problematic vowel was not necessarily the same. In sum, the UMiss speakers with mergers in their L1 dialect appeared to face different challenges than the BYU speakers when perceiving and producing German vowel contrasts. Results have implications for the L2 classroom and L2 research, suggesting that instructors may need different teaching strategies for speakers from merging dialects.



College and Department

Humanities; Center for Language Studies



Date Submitted


Document Type





Perception, Production, Vowel Mergers, Mississippi Dialect, English, German, Second Language Acquisition