The Phonological Basis of Foreign Accent: A Hypothesis

Academic Article


  • Foreign accent is often thought to be the result of an age‐related diminution in the ability to learn to pronounce languages. Existing studies of L2 pronunciation, however, do not seem to support the claim that there is some fundamental difference between children and adults in phonetic learning ability. The continued presence of foreign accent may instead be a consequence of the establishment of stable phonological representations for sounds and words in the native language. Language learners who perceive sounds in the target language to be phonologically identical to native‐language sounds (despite possible phonetic differences between the two languages) may base whatever phonetic learning that does occur during the acquisition process on an acoustic model provided by pairs of similar sounds in two languages, rather than on a single language‐specific acoustic model as in first‐language acquisition. Thus an adult or child learner of a foreign language may retain the same kind of phonetic learning ability evident in early childhood and yet still speak with an accent because phonological translation provides a two‐language source of phonetic input that may ultimately limit progress in learning to pronounce a foreign language. 1981 TESOL International Association
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Flege JE
  • Start Page

  • 443
  • End Page

  • 455
  • Volume

  • 15
  • Issue

  • 4