Pause for Thought (Groups): Non-native Pausing Behavior and Ease of Processing of L2 Speech

  • Sadi Phillips (Indiana University)
  • Alejandra Aguilar (Indiana University)
  • Hannah Alt (Indiana University)
  • Isabelle Darcy (Indiana University)


Features of prosodic phrasing in English are difficult to acquire even for advanced learners. One notably difficult prosodic feature is "thought-grouping", or pausing to delineate meaningful word groups. Learners may split clauses unpredictably or skip prosodic boundaries, creating “run-on” sentences. Either pausing pattern may impede processing of non-native speech, but it is unclear how much they impact processing difficulty. We used a tone detection task as an indirect measure of how split and run-on sentences impact processing difficulty of L2 speech. Thirty-four native English listeners responded to short tones semi-randomly inserted in sentences spoken with target-like or non-target-like thought-grouping. Listeners also judged each sentence as true or false, ensuring they processed them for meaning (not listening for tones alone). Tone detection reaction times (RTs) were compared in three pausing conditions: Original (pause at clause boundary); Run-on (pause absent); Split (additional pause mid-clause). As predicted, non-target-like pausing increased processing difficulty as evidenced by RTs in Run-on or Split conditions being slower than in the Original condition. No clear difference emerged between Run-on and Split conditions. These findings provide corroborating evidence with a processing task that non-target-like pausing results in increased processing difficulty. We discuss the implications of these findings for language pedagogy.

How to Cite: Phillips, S., Aguilar Perez, A., Alt, H., & Darcy, I. (2022). Pause for thought (groups): non-native pausing behavior and ease of processing of L2 speech. In J. Levis & A. Guskaroska (eds.), Proceedings of the 12th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, held June 2021 virtually at Brock University, St. Catharines, ON. 

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Published on
16 Sep 2022
Peer Reviewed