Book: Phonology in Protolanguage and Interlanguage
Chapter: 7. Schwa Productions in Spanish-English Bilingual Adults
Several studies have shown that a lag of even a few years of acquiring a second language L2 tends to have dramatic consequences on both speech production and perception. The study reported here investigates the production of American English reduced vowels by early sequential Spanish-English bilingual adults. The central question is whether adult bilinguals are able to develop native-like phonological patterns and maintain separate phonetic categories for the sounds of their L2 (English), or if starting a few years later will create impediments in the formation of new phonetic categories. We acoustically investigated the durations and quality of English reduced vowels in unstressed syllables produced by early Spanish-English bilinguals. The analyses of vowels were done in two different prosodic environments and word frequency was also measured, to examine the effect of these two factors (prosodic environment and word frequency) on vowel duration and quality. The productions of bilinguals were compared to a control group consisting of monolingual English adults in order to determine the amount of deviation in both duration and formant frequencies. Through an analysis of multiple variables, the research contributes evidence that early age of acquisition of a bilingual speaker’s L2 may result in a perceived native-like sound; however measurable differences suggest that their pronunciation is different from that of monolingual speakers. Their system is phonemically stable (native-like), but phonetically exhibiting non-monolingual aspects.