An experimental approach to phonetic transfer in the production and perception of early Spanish-Catalan bilinguals




Amengual Watson, Marcos

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This dissertation examines the production, perception and processing of the Catalan-specific mid-vowel categories (/e/-/[open-mid front unrounded vowel]/ and /o/-/[open-mid back rounded vowel]/) by early Spanish-Catalan bilinguals in Majorca (Spain). The analyses focus on the lexical as well as the segmental levels to analyze cognate effects in the production and lexical representations of these early bilinguals, and they explore how their production and perception abilities are related. This study provides evidence that early and highly proficient Spanish-Catalan bilinguals in Majorca maintain two independent phonetic categories in the Catalan mid-vowel space. The first significant finding is that production patterns in Majorca differ from those previously reported in Barcelona, as the Catalan mid-vowel contrasts are not merging into a single Spanish-like mid-vowel for either Catalan-dominants or Spanish-dominants. Additionally, these bilinguals are not 'deaf' to the Catalan-specific mid-vowel contrasts: both language dominance groups perceive the contrast between the Catalan mid-vowel categories despite the overlap with one phonetic category in Spanish. Even though Spanish-dominant bilinguals as a whole are indistinguishable from Catalan-dominant bilinguals in the perception and production tasks, they are found to have a higher error rate in the lexical decision task. The comparison of the acoustic properties of the target vowels in Catalan cognate and non-cognate experimental items reveals that the production of the mid-vowels is affected by cognate status, and that these cognate effects are also found in the word recognition of aurally presented stimuli. Finally, bilinguals who produced the mid-vowels with a smaller Euclidean distance are more likely than bilinguals who maintain a more robust contrast in their productions to have a higher error rate in the AXB discrimination and lexical decision tasks. The present study contributes to the discussion regarding the organization of early bilinguals' dominant and non-dominant phonetic systems, and implications are considered for cross-linguistic models of bilingual speech production and perception. It is proposed that the exemplar model of lexical representation (Bybee, 2001; Pierrehumbert, 2001) can be extended to include bilingual lexical connections that can account for the interactions between the phonetic and lexical levels of early bilingual individuals.



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