Introducing the Project:

The impact of phonetic variability
on bilingual morphosyntax:
The case of Spanish-English bilinguals

This past May we started a new project that looks at the acquisition of some aspects of the Spanish grammars by Spanish-English bilingual children who were born in Canada and the US in Spanish-speaking households. We are interested in studying children growing up with both Spanish and English, and to support their parents’ efforts to maintain the home language.

Did you know that differences in the pronunciation patterns in both languages differ in ways that may affect perception of word final vowels that are key to important aspects of grammars?

In the near future, we will start to recruit participants for our studies

Studies have shown that monolingual children acquire gender and tense agreement by the age of 2; however, bilingual children take much longer, and some aspects of the agreement system may never be acquired.

We want to explore why this is the case and test a possible explanation; namely that delays in the acquisition of agreement may be motivated by the differences in the vocalic systems of both languages.

The vowels that most frequently encode gender and tense in Spanish (/a e o/) are in unstressed word-final position.

Whereas in Spanish stressed and unstressed vowels have similar qualities, in English, unstressed vowels are usually reduced to schwa. In this project, thus, we test what we have called the modular interaction hypothesis, which claims that variability in one component of the grammar, in this case the phonetics and phonology, may have an impact on another component (the morphosyntax).

To test this hypothesis, we are designing a series of perception, production and comprehension experiments that seek to explore children’s capacity to perceive and produced these unstressed vowels in Spanish.

Using eye-tracking, we will also test the children’s comprehension of gender and person agreement. We will study 5-, 9- and 11-year old who live in bilingual settings in communities where the Spanish-speaking population have different densities.

Thus, we will test participant in Toronto, a low-density community; West Lafayette (Indiana), which represents a medium density community and El Paso (Texas), where there is is a large Spanish-speaking population.

SPANISH SPEAKERS IN THE WORLD
NATIVE SPANISH SPEAKERS IN THE WORLD
SPANISH SPEAKERS IN USA
SPANISH SPEAKERS IN CANADA
SPANISH SPEAKERS IN ONTARIO