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How Spanish-English bilinguals produce code-switched sentences: An acoustic analysis

How Spanish-English bilinguals produce code-switched sentences: An acoustic analysis
When: January 28, 2017
Where: Florida State University

PIRE undergraduate fellow Delaney Wilson presented at the Bilingualism in the Hispanic and Lusophone World Conference.

Code-switching, alternating between multiple languages in an utterance as in “the boy ate la pera en la cocina”.1, is a hallmark of bilingualism and shows that bilinguals keep both languages active. While there is a substantial body of research on the interaction between a bilingual's syntactic systems during code-switching, only a few studies have specifically examined the interaction between a bilingual's phonetic systems during the production of code-switched speech. Voice onset time (VOT) is the length of time between the release of a stop consonant and the onset of voicing. Recent studies have shown that Spanish-English bilinguals show significantly longer VOTs while naming unrelated pictures during switched trials2 than during non-switch trials 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 employed a sentence creation task to see if VOT lengths are also present in more naturalistic code-switched sentences. 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 in English are longer than the shorter stops found in 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 embedded within this sentence. A previously used 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 code-switched sentence. The colors indicated in which language each should be referenced. There were four language conditions: a switched sentence from Spanish to English, a switched sentence from English to Spanish, a single-language English sentence, and a single-language Spanish sentence. 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, Spain. The data of 11 participants were analyzed, based on their language proficiency scores for Spanish and English (DELE and MELICET). 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 and 5,696 were analyzed. Preliminary results show that English VOTs are longer than Spanish VOTs, which was expected. Pre-switch and initial target positions tend to be longer than their post-switch counterparts, but not significantly so. No significant difference manifested between code-switching and unilingual trials. 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.