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An acoustic analysis of VOT in Spanish-English code-switched sentences

An acoustic analysis of VOT in Spanish-English code-switched sentences
When: April 16, 2016
Where: Ohio State University

PIRE undergraduate fellow Delaney Wilson presented at the Current Approaches to Spanish and Portuguese Second Language Phonology Meeting.

Code-switching, alternating between multiple languages in an utterance, is a hallmark of bilingualism and shows that bilinguals keep both languages active. Code-switching is a popular topic, but most studies focus on switching between unrelated words/pictures rather than intrasentential switching, i.e. “the boy ate la pera en la cocina”1 Previous studies have shown that Spanish-English bilinguals have significantly longer voice onset times (VOTs) while naming unrelated pictures during switched trials2 and that their language-switched speech was “more accented”3 indicating that switching induces a difference in phonetic output. Since both of these studies focused on language switching during single picture naming, we studied whether the differences in VOT length are also present in more naturalistic code-switched sentences.VOT is the length of time between the release of a stop consonant and the beginning of the voicing of the following vowel. Languages differ in the types of VOT they use to implement contrasts, i.e. English is a long-lag language, meaning that the VOTs of voiceless stops are longer than the VOTs of Spanish. The interaction of the two phonologies potentially leads to a transfer of VOT patterns in code-switched speech. The present study is an acoustic analysis of voiceless stop VOTs (focusing on word-initial /p/ and /t/) in switched and non-switched sentences. The outcomes provide insight into how a meaningful sentence context may affect the phonetic realization of code-switched words. Kootstra et al. (2012)'s experimental technique4 was adapted to elicit code-switched sentences. Pictures contained two images (the subject and object in the target sentence), each circled in a separate color for a codeswitched sentence (see Figure 1). The colors indicated in which language each should be referenced. There were four language conditions: a complete English/Spanish sentence (unilingual conditions) or a switched sentence from English to Spanish or vice versa. Target words could appear before or after the language switch. Single-language sentences were presented in separate blocks and were not color-coded. Twenty-four Spanish-English bilinguals were tested at the University of Granada. 11 participants were analyzed based on achieved scores for the MELICET and DELE two tests that measure the level of proficiency in English and Spanish respectively. Forty-eight tokens were selected (2 languages*2 consonants*12 words). A total of 6,336 tokens (48 target words*2 conditions (unilingual, code-switch)*2 positions (before, after switch)*3 repetitions*11 participants) were collected. Currently, 3,168 tokens (all /t/ initial words) have been analyzed. Preliminary results for /t/ show there is a significant difference between English and Spanish VOTs in the unilingual conditions. As expected, English VOTs are longer than Spanish VOTs. Additionally, there is a significant difference in the VOT of switched versus non-switched sentences in Spanish (see Figure 2). While this suggests that there is no tangible anticipatory or carryover effect on VOT during code-switched sentences in naturalistic speech, it does show that bilinguals are capable of producing a distinction between the differences in VOT length within languages. Final analysis will also include /p/ initial words to ascertain if there is a similar effect for a different consonant.