Syllabification of Final Consonant Clusters: A Salient Pronunciation Problem of Kurdish EFL Learners

Document Type: Original Article

Author

Girne American University, North Cyprus

Abstract

While there is a plethora of research on pronunciation problems of EFL learners with different L1 backgrounds, published empirical studies on syllabification errors of Iraqi Kurdish EFL learners are scarce. Therefore, to contribute to this line of research, the present study set out to investigate difficulties of this group of learners in the pronunciation of consonant clusters (CCs). The data for this study were collected through classroom observation and a pronunciation test. Initially, students’ difficulties in pronouncing difficult English clusters were diagnosed in their oral performance in the author’s graduate classes at a private university in Northern Cyprus. Subsequently, 18 Iraqi Kurdish students volunteered to read aloud a short paragraph, sentences containing the problematic consonant clusters, and a word list while being audio-recorded. Data analysis showed discrepancies in the participants’ pronunciation of consonant clusters, i.e., while they did not exhibit any problem in the pronunciation of initial CCs, most of them employed vocalic epenthesis (insertion of an additional vowel), as a repair strategy, in word final position to facilitate the pronunciation of complex clusters of the TL (Target Language). This can be attributed to the influence of the mother tongue as Kurdish phonotactics does not allow certain CCs in word final position. However, other factors such as the role of modelling, and lack of sufficient exposure to the TL may have contributed to the participants’ pronunciation problems. Moreover, since all of the participants were adult EFL learners, it is safe to assume that such errors might have become fossilized in their interlanguage. Therefore, in terms of pedagogy, it is suggested that pronunciation problems of EFL learners should be dealt with during early stages of second language acquisition in order to prevent fossilization.

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