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Doctoral dissertation project of Simona Sbranna

Developing linguistic competence in second language learning: The case of prosody in Italian learners of German (working title)

Prosody plays a fundamental role in communication, as it performs several linguistic functions and conveys paralinguistic information about speakers’ attitudes as well. However, in second language (L2) classrooms intonation is neglected. Most learners tend to transfer prosodic features from their first language (L1) to the L2, undermining speech intelligibility and comprehensibility. Making learners aware of their own prosodic profile and taking this profile into account when teaching the L2 could greatly increase the effectiveness of the learning process and benefit L2 learners’ communicative skills. With this research project, I aim to shed light on the role of learner-specific profiles in L2 learning, investigating the effects of regional linguistic substrata in the native language on L2 prosody. Given the diverse prosodic profiles of regional varieties of Italian, I will explore the development of prosodic competence in Italian learners of German as L2 from three regional varieties and at different L2 proficiency levels.

For this purpose, I will analyse learners’ realisations of linguistic structures which are said to differ among Italian regional varieties and German, namely the way they differentiate between yes-no questions and contrastive-corrective narrow focus in statements, to be able to assess to which extent learners deviate from the L2 and whether they improve at later stages of the learning process. I plan to model the learning trajectories of individuals and groups using a dynamical system approach. The learning process is not a linear process characterised by discrete items and stages, but is instead extremely variable, owing to many interacting linguistic, sociological, psychological and idiosyncratic factors. Therefore, the dynamical systems approach, being able to integrate both discrete and continuous phenomena, lends itself well to the study of L2 acquisition.

This research will extend the little investigated body of knowledge concerning L2 prosody learning and enable concrete applications of the findings to the teaching field. Once learners’ difficulties have been identified, it will be possible to create effective educational tools to deal with the deviations which have the most detrimental effect on communication, as assessed by native listeners. The findings of this study will not only lay the groundwork for devising prosodic training programmes for Italian learners of German to improve their communicative skills in L2, but will also provide the theoretical basis for the teacher’s need to focus on learner-specific profiles, increasing the chance of effective transmission of knowledge and skills.

 

Short biography

Simona Sbranna graduated in 2018 in Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Salerno (Italy) with a focus on linguistics and language teaching. During her studies, she spent two semesters at the University of Cologne, concluded a traineeship at the Dante Alighieri Institute of Seville as a teacher of Italian as a foreign language, and a traineeship at AISV (Italian Association for Voice Sciences). After the M.A. she was employed for a semester at the University of Salerno as a graduate teaching and research assistant. 2018 she was awarded a “Predoc” scholarship by a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities. Since 2019 she is a doctoral student within a.r.t.e.s. Integrated Track and carries out her research project under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Martine Grice.

Contact: s.sbranna(at)outlook.com

 

Publications

Alfano I., Savy R., Sbranna S., Schettino L.: “Strategie discorsive in spagnolo L1 e L2 a confronto: un’indagine su corpora dialogici”, CHIMERA: Romance Corpora and Linguistic Studies (2018) Vol 5, No 1, pp. 27–52.

 

Presentations

Sbranna, S., Cangemi F. and Grice, M. (accepted) “Towards quantifying conversational competence in second language learning”, Conference on “Phonetik und Phonologie 2019”, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, 26–27 September 2019.

 

Organised events

Summer Semester 2018, Kinderuni workshop  “Unsere Stimme“, University of Cologne, Germany.

 

Teaching experience

Summer Semester 2018: Seminar “Applied Linguistics”, Department of Humanities, Università degli Studi di Salerno, Italy.

 

Awards

2019, Travel grant from CCLS for summer school SMLP 2019 Introductory Frequentist Statistics at University of Potsdam, Germany.

2019, Travel grant from CCLS for conference Phonetics and Phonology in Europe 2019 in Lecce, Italy.

2019, DAAD Research Grants – One-Year Grant (unable to accept owing to concurrent a.r.t.e.s. scholarship).

2019, a.r.t.e.s. Integrated Track scholarship.

2018, a.r.t.e.s. “Predoc” scholarship.

2017, Scholarship “Erasmus Traineeship” for “Dante Alighieri” Institute, Seville, Spain.

2016, Erasmus + scholarship for exchange semester at University of Cologne, Germany.

2015, Erasmus + scholarship for exchange semester at University of Cologne, Germany.

 

Cover photo: The role of prosody in communication and comprehension (Credit: Katarzyna Tyl, Pixabay, modfied by Simona Sbranna) // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad