This next group of sounds can be quite challenging for certain L1 backgrounds. The simple explanation is that not every language “allows” consonant clusters like English does. Take, for example, the word strengths. The syllable structure for this word looks like CCCVCCCC (/strɛŋkθs/). Now take a Japanese learner of English, who comes from a language that only allows syllables to be either V or CV. You can immediately notice the trouble this learner is going to have. The learner, unaccustomed to producing such syllables, is undoubtedly going to either add or delete certain sounds from the word strengths so that it fits with the rules of their L1.
- or Epenthesis
There are some who have tried to pin which of these errors causes the most problems to intelligibility, though it is highly understudied and the results are inconclusive. Preliminary findings suggest that segmental errors in stressed syllables cause more damage to intelligibility than those in unstressed, and that word-initial errors can also cause more damage, as it leads the listener on a wild goose chase for a word that was not intended.
Don’t fret! There are plenty of common rules to these consonant clusters.
Syllable-initial clusters can come in clusters of two or three, and there are certain conditions that must be met for them to occur.
Clusters of Two
One of two conditions must be met:
- Either the first sound is /s/, or,
- The second sound is an (/l, r, w, y/)
Sometimes, however, both conditions can hold true, like in the word “swift” /swɪft/.
Clusters of Three
While more challenging than its counterpart, the conditions are much more strict:
- The first sound must be /s/
- The second sound must be a voiceless stop (/p, t, k/)
- The third sound must be an approximant (/l, r, w, y/)
Syllable-final clusters are a bit tougher to categorize. However, many clusters of two or three, and pretty much all clusters of four, are formed by adding a plural (/s, z/) or past tense (/t, d/) inflection to a word.
The addition of extra sounds; likely results from an L1-L2 conflict.
The deletion of sounds; likely a result of an L1-L2 conflict.
When a produced sound cannot be identified by the L1 or L2; likely the use of a sound which is unknown to the listener, though this type of error is understudied.
When one sound is quite literally substituted for another sound; likely the result of the new sound not existing in the speaker's native language.
The group which contains all of the liquid and glide sounds -- /r/, /l/, /w/, and /y/