Language context elicits native-like stop voicing in early bilinguals’ productions in both L1 and L2
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The way that bilinguals produce phones in each of their languages provides a window into the nature of the bilingual phonological space. For stop consonants, if early sequential bilinguals, whose languages differ in voice onset time (VOT) distinctions, produce native-like VOTs in each of their languages, it would imply that they have developed separate first and second language phones, that is, language-specific phonetic realisations for stop-voicing distinctions. Given the ambiguous phonological status of Greek voiced stops, which has been debated but not investigated experimentally, Greek-English bilinguals can offer a unique perspective on this issue. We first recorded the speech of Greek and Australian-English monolinguals to observe native VOTs in each language for /p, t, b, d/ in word-initial and word-medial (post-vocalic and post-nasal) positions. We then recorded fluent, early Greek–Australian-English bilinguals in either a Greek or English language context; all communication occurred in only one language. The bilinguals in the Greek context were indistinguishable from the Greek monolinguals, whereas the bilinguals in the English context matched the VOTs of the Australian-English monolinguals in initial position, but showed some modest differences from them in the phonetically more complex medial positions. We interpret these results as evidence that bilingual speakers possess phonetic categories for voiced versus voiceless stops that are specific to each language, but are influenced by positional context differently in their second than in their first language.
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