Does bilingual language influence in the domain of phonetics impact the morphosyntactic domain? Spanish gender is encoded by word-final, unstressed vowels (/a e o/), which may diphthongize in word-boundary vowel sequences. English neutralizes unstressed final vowels and separates across-word vocalic sequences.

The realization of gender vowels as schwa, due to cross-linguistic influence, may remain undetected if not directly analyzed. To explore the potential over-reporting of gender accuracy, we conducted parallel phonetic and morphosyntactic analyses of read and semi-spontaneous speech produced by 11 Monolingual speakers and 13 Early and 13 Late Spanish-English bilinguals.

F1 and F2 values were extracted at five points for all word-final unstressed vowels and vowel sequences. All determiner phrases (DPs) from narratives were coded for morphological and contextual parameters. Early bilinguals exhibited clear patterns of vowel centralization and higher rates of hiatuses than the other groups.

However, the morphological analysis yielded very few errors. A follow-up integrated analysis revealed that /a and o/ were realized as centralized vowels, particularly with [+Animate] nouns.

We propose that bilinguals’ schwa-like realizations can be over-interpreted as target Spanish vowels. Such variable vowel realization may be a factor in the vulnerability to attrition in gender marking in Spanish as a heritage language.


Laura Colantoni 1,*, Ruth Martínez 1, Natalia Mazzaro 2, Ana T. Pérez-Leroux 1 and Natalia Rinaldi 1

1 Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 1K7, Canada. 2 Department of Languages and Linguistics, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX 79968, USA .* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.