Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.6, 415-417
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 415
Analysis on Sichuan College Students’ Segmental
Phoneme Errors
Chuandong Ma1*, Lunhua Tan2
1College of Fundamental Education, Sichuan Normal University, Chengdu, China
2Sichuan Science and Technology University for Employees, Chengdu, China
Email: *
Received March 26th, 2013; revised April 27th, 2013; accepted May 7th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Chuandong Ma, Lunhua Tan. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
The negative transfer of mother tongue has a big influence on the students in Sichuan when they learn
English pronunciation. Based on the contrast analysis and error analysis theory, this paper analyzes the
recordings of students’ oral English test and summarizes the errors the students make when they learn the
segmental phonemes: 1) Students use phonemes in Sichuan dialect to take place those similar in English;
2) Students confuse nasal consonant [n-] with lateral consonant [l-]; 3) Students find it difficult to dis-
tinguish ending consonants [-n] and [-η]; 4) A lot of students can not pronounce [r] correctly; 5) Few of
the students pay attention to the quality differences of long vowels and short vowels; 6) Many students
mispronounce the combinations of consonants [f, v, s, z, r, h, k, g] + [i, i:]; 7) In [s + p/t/k] combination,
students give a strong aspiration for [p/t/k]; 8) Students like to add a vowel sound in the consonant clus-
ters; 9) They sometimes add a vowel after the ending consonants.
Keywords: English Pronunciation; Segmental Phoneme; Language Transfer; Error Analysis; Contrast
The contrast analysis and error analysis hypothesis were put
forward in the 1950s (Fries & Lado) based on the transfer the-
ory, which insists that mother tongue habits would influence
foreign language acquisition, that is, language transfer, de-
fined by linguists. It is positive transfer, if the learner’s native
language helps in learning the second language, otherwise, the
negative transfer (Wang, 1990). Despite the conflicting views
on the significance of language transfer in historical linguistics,
the notion of language transfer remained uncontroversial among
language teachers into the twentieth century. As early as the
schools of the ancient world, teachers were writing down con-
trastive observations about the languages students knew and the
languages they wished to learn (Kelly, 1969). And as recently
as the schools are fluenced 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 na-
tive language influence could greatly influence second lan-
guage acquisition (Odlin, 2001), especially when learning the
pronunciation (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
language acquisition, the lack of social and family language
learning 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 (Ke, 1986),
so they miss the best time for learning the second language, that
is from 6 to 12. The Chinese sound system, grammatical system
and syntax have already rooted in their knowledge long before
they get contact with the second language, English. 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
learning 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 (Ke, 1986). The
Chinese students in fact spend a lot of time in learning English
before entering colleges, and they are excellent in writing and
reading comprehension, but very poor in oral English, espe-
cially the students from Sichuan dialect area. Due to mother
tongue’s negative transfer, students’ poor pronunciation seri-
ously influence their spoken English and their listening com-
Segmental phoneme is one of the most important factors to
distinguish meanings in English. Due to mother tongue’s trans-
fer, lot of students in Sichuan dialect area makes mistakes when
they speak English. Based on contrast analysis and error analy-
sis theory, this paper analyzes their segmental phoneme errors
in their pronunciation and the reasons so as to give some hints
to language teachers in dialect areas.
*Corresponding author.
C. D. MA, L. H. TAN
Sichuan Dialect Sound System
Sichuan dialect usually refers to the official dialect used by
the natives in Sichuan Province, Chongqing Municipality and
nearby areas. According to the classification in The Atlas of
Chinese Languages (1987-1990)1, Sichuan dialect belongs to
the south-west official dialect. Besides the official dialect in
Sichuan and Chongqing, there are some other non official dia-
lects, such as, “Tu-gong-dung-va”, another name for “Hak-ka-
va”, and “Old Hu-Guang Words” of “Xiang Dialect” (Cui,
1996)but the speakers can easily communicate with each other
in Sichuan Dialect.
Sichuan dialect is characteristically “foreign exclusive”. In
its system, the sounds, vocabulary and grammar are mostly in
agreement, and the inhabitants have little difficulty in commu-
nication, but there remains some discrepancies because of the
wide geographical distribution and cultural diversity of their
speakers. In this paper, we take the dialect popular in Chengdu
and Chongqing areas as the research subject.
Differences between Sichuan Dialect and
English in Their Sound Systems
English belongs to Indo-European languages, while Chinese
belongs to Sino-Tibetan languages, so they differ from each
other greatly in their sound systems.
1) Differences in phonemes
There are nine consonants and ten vowels in English in the
same family phonemes with those in Sichuan dialect, and the
others are completely different:
a) The manners and the places of articulation for most of the
consonants are different in the two languages. In Sichuan Dia-
lect, there are two sets of blade affricates: [ts, ts, tş, tş] and one
set of palatal [t, tþÁ, þ, ¤], but in English, there is a set of
post-alveolar fricative) [S, Z, tS, dZ] and two dentals [T, D].
b) In English, there are 8 counterparts of voiceless and
voiced consonants, they are: [p, b], [t, d], [k, g], [s, z], [S, Z],
[f, v], [tS, dZ], while in Sichuan dialect there are 5 counter-
parts of aspirated and unaspirated consonants, they are: [p, ],
[t, ], [k, ], [ts, tsÁ], [tþ, tþÁ]. In English, when a conso-
nant is pronounced, whether the vocal cord is vibrated or not
(voiced or voiceless) distinguish the meaning of words. For
example, put and but are different not only in pronunciation but
also in meaning, because phoneme [p] is voiceless and [b] is
voiced, even if the other phonemes in these two words are
completely the same. In Sichuan dialect, voiced or voiceless is
not a distinctive feature, but whether a consonant is aspirated or
not is very important for distinguishing word meaning. For
example, when we pronounce the word “ bō”, whether we
vibrate our vocal cord or not, the meaning of the word “
does not change, but if the consonant “b” is aspirated, “ bō
changes into “ pō”, another word with different meaning. In
English, whether a consonant is aspirated or not does not dis-
tinguish meaning. For example, in such words as sky, student
and sport, letters “k, t, p” should be voiceless and unaspirated
according English pronunciation rules, but even if one pro-
nounces them as [spÁùt] or [sÁkai] or [ÈstÁjuùdent],
the others would not misunderstand him. In Sichuan dialect,
most consonants are voiceless, and there are only six voiced: [m,
n, N, z, r, ¤].
c) There are more single vowels in English than those in Si-
chuan dialect. In English, there are twelve single vowels and in
Sichuan dialect only ten. The length of articulation and the
degree of tense of the speech organ are the distinctive features
in English. For example, bit [bit] and beat [biùt] are two
different words, but in Sichuan dialect, in word “ mā”, the
length of the vowel would not change the meaning of word,
while the tone pitch does. Example: mā(), má(), mǎ(),
mà ().
d) There are more diphthongs and triphthongs in Sichuan
dialect than in English. There are nineteen diphthongs and
triphthongs in Sichuan dialect, and in English there are eight
diphthongs no triphthongs in true sense (Xu, 1985).
2) Differences in sound combinations
a) The sound combinations in the two languages differ great-
ly. In English, consonant clusters are very common. For exam-
ple, spring, plate, degree. And the position of most consonant
clusters are free in a word. They can appear at the beginning, in
the middle or at the end of a word. Except for consonant [N], all
the other ones can appear at the beginning; Except for [r, h, j,
w], the others can appear at the end. But in Sichuan dialect,
there is no consonant cluster. Only one consonant is allowed to
appear at the beginning of a word and consonants never appear
in the middle of a word. Not like that in English, there are only
two consonants [n, N] can appear at the end of a single word.
b) Most consonants in English can be freely combined with
vowels, except for [Z, D, z] with some vowels. But in Sichuan
dialect, the consonant and vowel combinations are much more
restricted and many consonants can not be combined with some
vowels, for example, [s, z, r, f, v, w, h] never goes together
with vowel [i].
Analysis on the College Students’ Segmental
Phoneme Errors
We conducted a oral English test on 98 students from differ-
ent areas of Sichuan in September, 2011. Most of them are
second year students and only five of them are third year stu-
dents from one university in Chengdu. They were first required
to read a passage with correct pronunciation and intonation, and
then to talk about a topic. Their reading and speaking were
recorded. After the tests, we analyzed their recordings and col-
lected the data. Based on their reading and our analysis, we
summarize their errors in phonemes and sound combinations as
follow and their supra-segmental errors will be analyzed in
another paper.
1) Errors in phonemes.
a) They often use phonemes in Sichuan dialect to take place
those similar in English.
Fricatives [s, z] for dentals [T, D]. Example: think [sink]2,
this [zis];
Fricatives [þ, j] for [S, Z]. Example: shine [þain], pleas-
Affricates [tþÁ, ] for [tS, dZ]. Example: China
[tþÁain«], jean [tþin];
Semi-vowel [w] for [v]. Example: very [Èweri];
Vowel [a] for [Q] or [Ã] . Example: back [bak], but [bat]
b) They always confuse nasal consonant [n-] with lateral
consonant [l-].
In Sichuan dialect, [n-] and [l-] belong to the same phoneme,
1Chinese Languages Atlas, China Academy of Social Sciences and Austra-
lian Academy of Humanlity, 1987/1990. Hongkong Langman publishing
co., LTD.
2:for wrong pronunciation.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
C. D. MA, L. H. TAN
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 417
in another word, they are appophones, some what like “p” in
pot and “p” in spot in English. Therefore, it is very common to
hear the students pronounce name as [leim], or like as [naik]
c) They find it difficult to distinguish [-n] and [-N].
When [-n] and [-N] appear at the end of a word, there are six
combinations in Sichuan dialect:
[-an], [-«n], [-in], [-iN], [-aN], [-oN], among which only
[-an] and [-aN] are distinguishing phonemes in Sichuan dialect,
for example, ānquán (安全)āngzhāng (肮脏). There are not
[-«N] and [-iN] in its sound system. That is why so many stu-
dents find it difficult to distinguish such words as sing, thing,
rang, song from sin, thin, ran and son.
d) A lot of students can not pronounce [r] correctly.
Phoneme [r] in English is defined as a voiced post alveolar
fricative. The sound is articulated between the tip of the tongue
and the back part of the teethridge. When the air passes over air
passage, the soft palate is raised, the lips are rounded and the
vocal cords are made to vibrate. In most regions of Sichuan
dialect area, there is not such a sound, and only in some places
there is a similar sound [ü], but the lips are not rounded. When
students meet the words like read, right etc., they pronounce
them either as [luid] and [luait], or [üuid] and
e) Few of the students pay attention to the quality differences
of long vowels and short vowels.
The length of articulation and the tense degree of muscle do
not distinguish meanings in Sichuan dialect, while in English
they are very important distinctive features. There are four sets
of vowels different in length in English, they are: [i, ], [«,
«ù], [u, ]. [, ù]. They do differ from each other in length,
or in “quantity”, but at the same time, they differ in “quality”
(Gimson, 1970, p.103). Generally speaking, the short vowels in
English are articulated shorter and the muscle of the speech
organ, is less tense, but for the long ones, it is longer and more
tense, therefore, the openings of the mouth for the long vowels
are bigger and the front part of tongue is lower. Students in
Sichuan can easy distinguish them in length, but they usually
neglect their differences in quality. Example: in the word bit, [i]
is short and relaxed, but many students make it too tense and
close, which sounds like the shortened [].
2) Errors in sound combinations
a) Errors in C (consonant) + V (vowel) combinations
Many students mispronounce the combinations of conso-
nants [f, v, s, z, r, h, k, g] + [i, ]. In Sichuan dialect, [f, w, s,
z, r, h, k, g] never appear before close vowels [i, ], and the
smallest close vowel following these consonants are [e], so
they tend to pronounce words like fill, vei l, silk, zero, real, hill,
kill, give as [fel], [vel], [selk], [Èze«ru], [rel]or
[reil], [hel], [kel] and [geiv].
b) In [s + p/t/k] combination, students give a strong aspira-
tion for [p/t/k].
According to English pronunciation rules, when [ p, t, k ] fol-
low an initial [s], they are realized with no aspiration even
when stressed (Gimson, 1970: p. 48). It is a redundant feature
in English which does not discriminate meanings of words.
Example, [p] in word sport, [t] in student and [k] in sky are
unaspirated. Many students usually pronounce them with a
strong aspiration: [spÁùt], [ÈstÁjuùden],[ skÁai],
which sounds really odd.
c) They like to add a vowel sound in the consonant clusters.
Consonant clusters are very common in English, but never in
Sichuan dialect (see Part III). When they read words with con-
sonant clusters like: br-, bl-, pr-, pl-, kr-, kl-, gr-, gl-, sr-, sl-,
thr-, spl-, spr-, skr-, -pl- etc., they ususlly add a vowel sound
between the consonants. Examples: please [pÈliùz], em-
ploy [imÈpli], three [Tri]. Sometimes, they add a
vowel sound in the ending clusters. Example: bags [bQgz].
d) They sometimes add a vowel after the ending consonants.
In Sichuan dialect, only [-n, -N] appear at the ending position,
and the others all at the beginning, followed by vowels. There
are many open syllables ending in vowels. Students are used to
ending a syllable with a vowel. When they meet the words
ending in consonants in English, unconciously they like to add
a vowel after the consonant. Example: sit [sitF] or [siti],
bad [bQdF], take [teikF].
Judging from the analysis above, we are convinced of that
language transfer, to be precise, the negative transfer of mother
tongue does exist when learners learn a foreign language, espe-
cially when learning the pronunciation. It is evident that the
differences in the sound systems between Sichuan dialect and
English give great difficulties to the students, as is showed
above. We hope our analysis could give some hints to language
teachers in dialect areas if it’s useful.
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