Open Journal of Social Sciences
2013. Vol.1, No.1, 1-4
Published Online February 2013 in SciR es (http ://www.sci DOI:10.4236/jss.2013.11001
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
The Negative Transfer of Sichuan Dialect to the Study of
English Pronunciation
—— Error Analysis on the Supra-segment al Phone mes
Chua ndong Ma, Lunhua Tan
The Fundamental College of Sichuan Normal University, Chen g d u, Sic h uan, C hi na
Received 2013
Supra-segmental phoneme is one of the most important factors in distinguishing meanings in English.
Due to t he inf luenc e of Sichua n dia lect , man y student s in Si chua n tend to sp eak Engli sh wit hout noti cing
the striking features in the continuous speech such as word stress, liaison, loss of explosion, or elision.
The monot onous tones and pitc hes result in their non-f luency in the c ommunica tion. Bas ed on the theor y
of contrast analysis and error analysis, this paper analyzes the common errors in their p ronunciat ion and
the reasons s o as to make some suggestions on how to teach and l earn Englis h pronunciati on.
Key words: English Pronunciation; Supra-Segmental Phoneme; Language Transfer; Contrast Analysis;
Error Analysis
Language acquisition strategies have been the concerns of
lingu ists and language teach ers for man y years. In order to find
better ways for learners to learn foreign languages, linguists
compare the differences when young children learn mother
tongue and when adults learn foreign languages.By observing
children’s mother tongue learning process, linguists find that
the differences lie in that children start from the very beginning
while adults have already had comparatively systematic know-
ledge of mother tongue before they start to learn foreign lan-
guages, thus learning foreign languages seems more difficult
for them.What kind of influence would mother tongue have on
foreign language acquisition become the concern of linguists
and l anguage teachers. The contr ast analysis h ypothesis was put
forward in the 1950s ( Fries,G./ Lado,R), based on the transfer
theory which insists that mother tongue habits would influence
foreign language acquisition, that is, language transfer defined
by linguists. It is positive transfer, if learner’s native language
helps in learning the second language,otherwise,the negative
transfer. ( Wang Chuming, 1990).
Despite the conflicting views on the significance of language
transfer in historical linguistics,the notion of language transfer
remained uncontroversial among language teachers well into
the twentieth century. As early as the schools of the ancient
world, teachers were writing down contrastive observations
about the languages students knew and the languages they
wished to learn(Kelly, 1969). And as recently as the schools
influenced by figures such as Sweet (1899/1972), Jespersen
(1912), Palmer (1917), Fries (1945), and other proponents of
new (or seemly new) methods of language teaching, there is a
widespread acceptance of the idea that native language influ-
ence could greatly influence second language acquisition (Te-
rence Odlin, 2001) , especially when learning the pronunciation
(Rod Ellis, 1994). Chinese is categorized into Sino- Tibetan
family while English belongs to Indo-European family thus
they differ greatly in all aspects. From the prospective of lan-
guage acqui sition , the lack of social an d famil y language l earn-
ing environment leads to the negative transfer rather than the
positive one.
English as the second language had not been taught in most
of the middle schools in China until 1957. Most learners begin
to learn English from the first year in middle school (Fu Ke,
1986), so they miss the best time for learning the second lan-
guage, that is from 6 to 12.The sound system, grammatical
system and syntax have already rooted in their knowledge long
before they get contact with the second language. Some lin-
guists believe that language acquisition is a process of getting
into habits, not that of learning. If learners drill repeatedly in
listening, speaking, reading and writing, they would gradually
master the second language. But the result goes against the
prediction of the theorists. According to Full-time Six Years
Middle School Teaching Plan, the required time for English
learnin g is: 960 hours for arts majors, five hours per week; 932
hours for science majors, five hours per week in the first two
years, and in the last year, four hours per week. ( Fu Ke, 1986)
The Chinese students in fact spend a lot of time in learning
English before entering colleges, and they are excellent in lis-
tening and reading comprehension, but very poor in oral Eng-
lish, esp eciall y in Sich u an di alect ar ea. Du e to moth er to ngu e’ s
negative transfer, students’ poor pronunciation seriously influ-
ence th eir spoken English.
Supra-segmental phoneme is one of the most important fac-
tors to distinguish meanings in English. Due to the influence of
Sichuan dialect, many students in Sichuan tend to speak Eng-
lish without noticing the striking features in the continuous
speech such as liaison, loss of explosion, elision or stress. The
monotonous tones and pitches result in their non-fluency in the
communication. Based on the theory of contrast analysis and
error analysis, this paper analyzes the common errors in their
pronunciation and the reasons in order to make some sugges-
tions on how to teach and learn English pronunciation.
C. D. MA, L. H. TAN
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Error Analysis on the Supra-Segmental
Word Stress
There is a large vocabulary in the English language and the
English words are much more complex than any other lan-
guages in the world. English words mainly originated from two
sources: Germanic languages and Romance languages, and it
has also borrowed a lot of words from most of the languages in
the world(Xu Tianfu, 1985). As A.C.Gimson explains in his
“ An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English”, “The ac-
centual pattern of English words is fixed, in the sense that the
main accent always falls on a particular syllable of any given
word,but free, in the sense that the main accent is not tied to
any particular situation in the chain of syllables constituting a
word, as it is in some languages...... ” (A.C.Gimson, 1972).
Thus English word accentual patterns differ greatly, not easy
for learners to master.
As one of the most important supra-segmental phoneme,
word stress is the base of learning rhythm and intonation and
plays an important role in communication. Mispronouncing
word stress may leads to ambiguity in understanding. Therefore,
it is of vital importance for learners to master correctly the
word stress patterns. However, many students in Sichuan Di-
alect area make mistakes when pronouncing words: misread
word stress, neglect the differences of vowel sound quality in
stressed and non-stressed syllables.
According to English pronunciation rules, in most disyllabic
words, word stress falls on the first syllable, only a few falls on
the second syllable. Our students tend to mispronounce the
following words with two syllables:
correct wrong
prefer /:/ /:/
advise // //
discuss // //
event // //
In English, quite a few words can be both noun and verb but
with different word stresses. Generally speaking, word stress
falls on t he second syllable when it functions as a verb, and on
the first syllable when it is a noun. For example:
Noun Verb
record / / //
present / / / /
digest / / / /
refuse // //
subject / / / /
In Chinese, it is the tones not stress that distinguish meanings,
so Chin ese is Tone Language. The p itch of syllable is the st rik-
ing feature to distinguish meaning ,while the intensity of sound
is its redundant feature, that is to say, the meaning and part of
speech of Chinese words have nothing to do with the sound
intensity.(Xu Tongqiang, 1993). In most parts of Sichuan Di-
alect area, there are four tones: high and leve, rising, falling
rising, falling. In some parts of Sichuan, such as in the east and
south of Sichuan, there is still Ru tone ( the fourth tone in the
old Chinese pronunciation), and tones decide the meaning of
words as th o se in the st andard Chinese. In Sichuan dialect , each
word is stressed if it is a monosyllabic word.The word stress
always falls on the first syllable in most disyllabic and trisyl-
labic words but sometimes on the second syllable. In quadri-
syllabic words, there are usually two stresses, one on the first
syllable and the other on the third syllable. So it is common to
find word stress misplacement in students’ pronunciation, as
are shown above. They tend to read English words in the ac-
centual pattern in Sichuan dialect and usually stress the first
syllable whether the word is a none or a verb.
The stress is also closely related with the quality of vowels.
Generally speaking, the quality of vowels is complete only in
the stressed syllables; in the unstressed syllables, vowels are
often weakened to/[/, /i/, /u/. A.C.Gimson 1972If the stress
of a word is misplaced, the vowel would be mispronounced.
Many students in Sichuan often pronounce the vowels in the
unstressed syllables as they do in the stressed ones:
correct wrong
breakfast //
Sunday // //
ago // //
suppose // //
forget // //
Sentence St ress and Rhy thm
Most English words have their own accentual patterns when
they are uttered one by one, but in the connected speech, the
native speaker expends relatively great articulatory energy on
those parts of the utterance to which they wishes to attach par-
ticular accentual meaning, while the remaining words or syl-
lables ar e weakly and rapidly articu lated. An u tterance cont ain-
ing a high percentage of content words is likely to receive more
stresses than one with the same number of syllables but a high-
er proportion of form words. Nevertheless, the syllables uttered
with the greatest stress constitute, for the speaker, hubs with
which unstressed syllables will be associated to form rhythmic
groups. ( A.C.Gimson, p.260
Rhythm is one of most important supra-segmental phoneme.
It is a feature of English that the utterance is delivered as a
series of close-knit rhythmic groups, ...and the rhythmic beats
of an utteran ce occu r at fairly equal in terval of time. As a resu lt
of this, the speed at which the unstressed syllables are uttered
will depend upon the number occurring between the strong
beats. All the unstressed syllables occurring between two strong
beats may not, however,be uttered with equal rapidity.
( A.C.Gimson, p.261)
Rhythm in English is stress timed, that is to say, the length of
the speech is decided not by the number of the syllables but by
the number of the stress. So the native speakers will not articu-
late each syllable very cl early and u sually they utter t he stressed
syllable stronger, longer and clearer but the unstressed weaker,
shorter and vaguer. In Chinese rhythm is syllable timed, and the
length of the speech depends on the number of syllables. The
more there are the syllables, the longer time the speakers will
take. The Chinese speakers are used to articulating each Chi-
nese word very clearly and for each word they will take roughly
the same length of time except for special purpose. Thus, many
learners in China utter each English word very forcefully and
clearl y as th ey speak thei r mot her tongue.
Students in Sichuan dialect ares error in sentence stress and
rhythm in the following two cases:
(1) They utter each word very clearly with same stress, and
vowels, no matter in stressed syllables or unstressed syllables,
are usu ally articulated completely:
I am an Englis h teacher.
C. D. MA, L. H. TAN
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Correct: /   ./
Wrong: /    ./
(2) They expend same time on each word in the
strong-weak-strong-weak patterns:
He often talks loudly in public.
Correct: He 'often 'talks 'loudly in 'public.
Wrong: 'He 'often 'talks 'loudly 'in 'public.
In the Connected Speech
In oral English, the native speakers usually join the adjacent
words in one sense group in one way or another, such as: liai-
son, assimilation or elision, so their speeches sound smooth and
fluent, which is the prominent feature of oral English. However,
most words in Chinese begin with consonants, only a few with
vowels, and even if some words begin with vowels, all the ini-
tial syllable with /,,/ would be semi-vowels with slight
frication, and the others would start with a slight sound / ʔ /.
(Huang Borong, 1988) Thus, it is rare in Chinese to hear two
syllables uttered jointedly into one except in some dialect area,
such as: Tian An Men or Xi’an.
In Si chuan di alect, vowels in th e in it ial place are eit her tu rned
into semi-vowels // or completely changed into consonants,
for example, an quan (安全) /ʔ /, so it is imposs-
ible for speakers to link two syllables into one. As a result of
that, English learners in Sichuan usually add a slight /Ɂ/ before a
syllable with an initial vowel. For example,
This isn’t the one I ask for.
Correct: /    
Wrong: /      
 /.
So their speech doesn’t sound fluent and smooth.
Intonation not only provides a means of accentuation, but
also serves to dist inguish sentence types(e.g. statement and
quest ion), and indicat es the emoti on al attitu de of th e speaker as
well. ( A.C. Gimson, 1972, p.277). American linguist Fries
insists, that “ it is not just what you say, it is how you say it,
that counts.” Because English speakers pay much attention to
“ whether a sentence is spoken with a smile or with a sneer. If
one says something insulting, but smiles in face and voice, the
utteran ce may be a gre at co mpli ment ; bu t if one says so methi ng
very complimentary, but with an intonation of contempt, the
result is an insult” (C.C. Fries, 1962, p20-21) If a learner make
mistakes in pronunciation, he might be forgiven, but if he mi-
suses intonation, his utterance might lead to misunderstanding.
Thus, intonation plays a very important role in communication.
Leaners in S ichuan dialect area usu ally make mistake s in the
following two situations:
1) In the intonation group
In English, especially in British English, the speaking voice
may start from the highest pitch (on the first stressed syllable)
and fall to the lowest pitch(on the last stressed syllable in one
sentence) until to the nuclear syllable. If it is a statement, the
tail of the intonation may proceed to fall, but if it is a question,
the tail may rise up. Many learners in Sichuan are used to ut-
tering each syllable at th e same pitch, and rise or fall at th e last
syllable, which sounds really odd.
Example 1: It is a very interesting hobby.
Correct ↘•
______ ______ ______ _ _
Supra-segmental phoneme is one of the most important fac-
tors to distinguish meanings in English.It is of vital importance
for students to master stress, rhythm, intonation and liaison in
order to improve their spoken English. Teachers should make
 ↘•
2) Misuse of intonation
There are three fundamental intonations in English: rising,
falling, and mid-level. Of course, in the real communication, it
is more complicated. O’Connor lists seven intonations in his
Intonation of Colloquial English ( O’Connor, 1961). Many
other types of intonation such as rising-falling, falling-rising or
falling-rising-falling are used. Generally speaking, rising into-
nation is used in general questions, alternative questions and
imperative sentences while falling intonation is used in state-
ments, i mperative sen tences, excla matory sent ences and special
questions. Mid-level is often used for the unstressed syllables
before the nuclear. But sometimes a statement form of words
may be made into a question if a rise nucleus employed instead
of a fall, or a gen eral quest ion may be made int o a statement to
show the different meanings or attitudes of the speaker’s. For
example: He doesn’t lend his books to anybody. If the speaker
uses a falling nucleus on “anybody”, it means “ he lends his
books to nobody”; but if a falling-rising nucleus is used on
“anybody”, it means “he does lend his books to somebody”.
(A.C.Gimson, 1972)
Most students choose intonations only considering the sen-
tence types but neglecting the meaning the sentence conveys.
They tend to read or speak with the same intonation, mostly,
the falling one, which makes their speech sound dull and bor-
Example 1:
Wrong: Waiters and waitress work in restaur ants,
hotels, clubs, cafes, and snack bars. They
serve all kinds of food and drink. Their job is to
give good service t o people.
Correct: Waiters and waitress work in restaurants, ho-
tels, clubs, cafes, and snack bars. They serve all
kinds of food and drink. Their job is to give good ser-
vice to people.
Example 2:
Wrong: After he finished his work, he went home.
Correct: After he finished his work, he went home.
Wrong: --- Lovely weather, isn’t it?
---Yes, isn’t it?
Correct: --- Lovel y weather, isn’t it?
--- Yes, isn’t it? ↘(showing agreement
We here only list some of the mistakes the students make in
Sichuan dialect area, and there are surely many others not in-
cluded due to the limit space of the paper .
Advice to Teachers and Students
C. D. MA, L. H. TAN
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
full use of the similarity of the two languages to help the stu-
dents master the correct pronunciation. As for the differences
between them, teachers should help them grasp the basic
knowledge of English phonetics and drill on them. For young
children, imitating is the most effective way to learn the pro-
nunciation of one language, but for adults it is much more dif-
ficult because they have already had learned the rules of pro-
nunciation in their mother tongue, thus negative transfer influ-
ence on adults are much more prominent than on the young
children. Students should learn English phonetics systematical-
ly and correct their pronunciation consciously. Of course, imi-
tation is also very helpful for them to improve their pronuncia-
tion, s ince only practi ce can make perfect.
A.C. Gimson, “An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English”
(Second Edition) (M)England , Latimer Trend & Co.Ltd. 1972.
C. C.Fries, “Teaching and Learning English as a Foreign Languag”e,
Gui Cankun, “Applied Phonology of American English” (M), Shanghai
Foreign Languages Education Press, 1985
Huang Borong, Liao Xudong, “Modern Chinese” (M), Higher Educa-
tion Pres s , 2007
Ma Chuandong, Tan Lunhua, “The Negtive Transfer of Sichuan Di-
alect to the Study of English Pronnciation --- Error Analysis on the
Segmental Phoneme” (J), Journal of Southwest University for Na-
tionalities,Vol.8, 2004
O’Connor and Arnold, “Intonation of Colloquial Egnlish”, Longman,
1961,2nd edition.
Rod Ellis, “The Study of Second Language Acquisition” (M)
Shanghai Foreign Languages Education Press, 1999
Terence Odlin, “Language Transfer”, Shanghai Foreign Languages
Edu cati on Press2001.
Wang Chuming, “Applied Psycholinguistics” (M) , Hunan Education
Press, 1990
Xu Tianfu, Yu Xiaomei, Sun Wanbiao, “Modern Egnlish Phonetics”
(M), Shanxi People Publishing House, 1985
Xu Tongqiang, “Xu Tongqiang Selections” (M), Henan Education
Press, 1993