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Published by: Mark Landsman on Dec 21, 2011
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Language and Speech
W. Baker and P. Trofimovich 1
 Interaction of Native- and Second- Language Vowel System(s)in Early and Late Bilinguals
 Wendy Baker
and Pavel Trofimovich
Brigham Young University
Concordia University
How do bilinguals organize their phonetic system(s)? Does this organizationdepend on bilinguals’ age at the time of second-language learning? By and large,
The objective of this study was to determine how bilinguals’ age at thetime of language acquisition influenced the organization of their phoneticsystem(s). The productions of six English and five Korean vowels by Englishand Korean monolinguals were compared to the productions of the samevowels by early and late Korean-English bilinguals varying in amount of exposure to their second language. Results indicated that bilinguals’ ageprofoundly influenced both the degree and the direction of the interactionbetween the phonetic systems of their native (L1) and second (L2) languages.In particular, early bilinguals manifested a bidirectional L1-L2 influence andproduced distinct acoustic realizations of L1 and L2 vowels. Late bilinguals,however, showed evidence of a unidirectional influence of the L1 on the L2and produced L2 vowels that were “colored” by acoustic properties of theirL1. The degree and direction of L1-L2 influences in early and late bilinguals appeared to dependon the degree of acoustic similarity between L1 and L2 vowels and the length of their exposureto the L2. Overall, the findings underscored the complex nature of the restructuring of the L1-L2phonetic system(s) in bilinguals. 
Key words
age bilingualism individual differences Korean vowel systems 
This research was partially supported by a research grant to WendyBaker from Brigham Young University. Many thanks are extended to Youngju Hong for herhelp in testing the Korean monolinguals and to Molly Mack and James E. Flege for theiradvice throughout this research project. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the15
International Congress of Phonetic Sciences in Barcelona, Spain. The authors thankDenis Burnham, Randall Halter, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful commentson earlier drafts of this manuscript, as well as Randall Halter and Dennis Eggett for theirinvaluable statistical advice.
Address for correspondence.
Wendy Baker, Ph.D., Department of Linguistics and EnglishLanguage, Brigham Young University, 2129 JKHB, Provo, UT 84601;
Phone: (801)422 - 4714; Fax: (801) 422 - 0906;
e-mail: <wendy_baker@byu.edu>.
LANGUAGE AND SPEECH, 2005, 48 (1), 1–27 
Language and Speech
‘Language and Speech’ is © Kingston Press Ltd. 1958 – 2005
Language and Speech
2 Bilingual vowel systems 
two approaches have been employed to answer these questions addressing how ageat the time of learning affects the phonetic system(s) of a bilingual’s two languages.One approach is to compare bilinguals to monolinguals, or to carry out monolingualcomparisons, in an attempt to determine the
of native- (L1) and second-language (L2) influence (Flege, Schirru, & MacKay, 2003; Mack, 1989; MacKay,Flege, Piske, & Schirru, 2001). For example, one recent study comparing how Italian-English bilinguals and English monolinguals produced English vowels found thatearly bilinguals (Italians who learned English between ages 2 and 13), but not latebilinguals (Italians who learned English after the age of 15), produced English /
/in a less than native-like manner (articulating it with more tongue movement) whencompared to monolingual English speakers (Flege et al., 2003). Apparently, the earlybilinguals were attempting to overemphasize differences between English
/ andsimilar Italian vowels, suggesting that their L1 (Italian) influenced, or interactedwith, their L2 (English).Another approach to examining bilinguals’ language organization is to comparebilinguals’ L1 and L2 thus performing bilingual comparisons to determine the
or amount of L1-L2 influence (Flege, 1987; Flege, MacKay, & Piske, 2002;Guion, 2003; Mack, 1990). For example, another recent study determined that early(but not late) Quichua-Spanish bilinguals produced Quichua and Spanish vowels thatdid not overlap in acoustic properties, indicating that early bilinguals may organizetheir two languages as somewhat separate systems (Guion, 2003). In other words, thedegree of L1-L2 influence was greater in late than in early bilinguals. In addition tosuggesting that different approaches provide distinct perspectives on how bilingualsorganize the phonetic system(s) in their two languages, these examples underscore theimportance of individual differences, such as bilinguals’ age at the time of learning,in determining how they do so.Yet a third approach to studying bilingual language organization may beconceptualized as a combination of the first two that is, as an examination of howbilinguals perceive and produce their two languages (bilingual comparison)
howsimilarly or differently they do so in comparison to monolinguals of both languages(monolingual comparison). Using the study of Quichua-Spanish bilinguals as a case inpoint (Guion, 2003), it would thus be revealing to determine how similar (or different)were the Quichua and Spanish vowels produced by early and late bilinguals to thoseproduced by monolinguals. In other words, performing both types of comparisonsmay determine not only the direction of L1-L2 influence (e.g., greater L1-to-L2 thanL2-to-L1 influence in late bilinguals) but also its degree (e.g., greater L1-L2 interac-tion in early than in late bilinguals).Although comparisons of bilinguals to monolingual speakers of the bilinguals’L2 are not uncommon, only a handful of studies have compared bilinguals to mono-lingual speakers of the bilinguals’ L1 to investigate the consequences that learningan L2 has upon an L1 (Bosch & Sebastián-Gallés, 2001, 2003; Mack, 1990; Mack,Bott, & Boronat, 1995). In addition, most of these studies have examined (nearly)simultaneous early bilinguals — those bilinguals who are exposed to an L2 at leastby age 4 (and often earlier) instead of those who are exposed to their L2 later in life.
Understanding how early and late bilinguals organize their phonetic system(s) incomparison to monolinguals of 
L1 and L2 would shed light on the nature of 
Language and Speech
W. Baker and P. Trofimovich
bilingual competence (e.g., Grosjean, 1985, 1989; Singh, 1998) and, more specifically,on bilingual language processing and learning (e.g., Costa, 2004).Thus, the main objective of the present study was to determine — by carryingout both bilingual and monolingual comparisons — how early and late bilingualsorganize and maintain their L1-L2 phonetic system(s) by examining both the directionand degree of L1-L2 influence. In addition to bilinguals’ age (a variable of primaryinterest here), also investigated in the present study were two other variables known toaffect the organization of phonetic system(s) in bilinguals and L2 learners — amountof experience and degree of cross-language similarity. These variables have receivedrelatively little attention in studies comparing bilinguals to monolingual speakers of the bilinguals’ L1, and have been investigated only in late, not in early, bilinguals.The first of these variables is the amount of experience with the two languages.Late bilinguals may organize their two languages differently in the beginning andadvanced stages of L2 learning. In particular, in the beginning stages of L2 learning,late bilinguals often perceive and produce at least some L2 vowels and consonants(“sounds”) as instances of L1 sounds (Best, 1995; Flege, 1995; Kuhl & Iverson, 1995).For example, native Korean speakers often perceive and produce English /
/ as aninstance of Korean /
/ (Baker, Trofimovich, Mack, & Flege, 2001; Trofimovich, Baker,& Mack, 2001). It is only after extensive exposure to an L2 that separate long-termmemory representations (categories) for L2 sounds like English /
/ are formed, if atall (Baker et al., 2001; Flege, Meador, & MacKay, 1999). Thus, in late bilinguals, L2perception and production are often influenced by the L1 at least in the beginningstages of L2 learning. In later stages, the two languages may interact less so that latebilinguals’ L2 is “colored” less by their L1.Much less is known about how amount of experience influences the L1-L2phonetic organization of early bilinguals. This is because most studies have examinedearly bilinguals only at advanced stages of L2 learning (e.g., Flege et al., 1999; MacKayet al., 2001). It is still largely unknown whether, in beginning stages of learning, earlybilinguals perceive and produce their two languages in terms of a single, one-languagesystem as late bilinguals presumably do (Best, 1995; Flege, 1995; Flege et al., 1999).It is certainly possible that they do not. The phonetic system(s) of early simultaneousbilinguals seems to be language-specific early in the learning process (e.g., Kehoe,2002; Vihman, 2002), which may suggest that early bilinguals, just like childrenexposed to both languages from birth, may effectively “separate” their two languagesat the onset of L2 learning. Surprisingly few studies have examined this question,especially on the phonetic level. One exception is the study by Aoyama, Flege, Guion,Yamada, and Akahane-Yamada (2003), who determined that early Japanese-Englishbilinguals who had recently begun learning English were able to improve over oneyear in the production of English /
/ and /
/ significantly more so than late bilingualswith a similar amount of experience. That is, amount of L2 experience may play aless effective role in late than in early bilinguals’ L2 phonetic learning.Another variable that may determine how bilinguals organize their phoneticsystem(s) is the degree of similarity between L1 and L2 sounds, or cross-languagesimilarity. In particular, the more similar L2 sounds are to L1 sounds perceptually,the more likely the L1 will influence how L2 sounds are perceived and produced (Best,

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