Acquisition of Spanish by Heritage Speakers of Ukrainian and Polish: a Phonetic and Phonological Account

Acquisition of Spanish by Heritage Speakers of Ukrainian and Polish: a Phonetic and Phonological Account

Bondarenko, Margaryta, 2018, Dissertation/Thesis


This study provides an acoustic analysis of vowels and voiceless and voiced stops in narrative, picture-naming, sentence-reading and nonce words reading tasks produced by heritage speakers (HSs) of Polish and Ukrainian residing in the Midwestern US who are beginning and intermediate-level learners of Spanish. The goal of this investigation was to examine if their production of Spanish segments relies more on their heritage language (HL) phonology, which, like Spanish, avoids unstressed vowel reduction, utilizes short-lag voice onset time (VOT) in the production voiceless stops and has true-voicing of voiced stops, or if they show evidence of transfer of unstressed vowel reduction, long-lag VOT, a lack of true-voicing, and a lack of intervocalic lenition from their dominant language, English.

Data from eleven Polish and six Ukrainian HS, with beginning or intermediate levels of Spanish proficiency were analyzed. Ten participants were recruited to serve as control groups: five L1 English L2 Spanish speakers (i.e., L2 acquisition baseline) and five L1 Spanish L2 English speakers (i.e., L1 Spanish baseline). All speakers watched a five-minute silent film and were recorded describing the events they observed. The HSs performed the task in Ukrainian or Polish, and English and Spanish, while the control groups only did it in the latter two languages. All speakers also completed three additional tasks in Spanish: a picture identification task with 33 items, a reading task with 64 contextualized sentences, and a reading elicitation with 44 nonce words embedded carrier phrases.

A subset of English, Polish, Spanish, and Ukrainian vowels and voiceless and voiced stops in different phonetic contexts were extracted and the following acoustic variables were analyzed in Praat (Boersma and Weenink 2016): the first two formants in vowels, VOT in voiceless stops, and VOT and relative intensity in voiced stops. The findings suggest reliance on English in the production of unstressed vowels and intervocalic lenition and influence of the HLs in the production of true-voicing. The voiceless stops results suggest influence of both the HL and the dominant language.

This study fills research gaps in heritage and L3 phonetics/phonology through its focus on the effects of an HL on the acquisition of subsequent sound systems in adulthood. The results suggest that language contact, dominance, and typology, rather than order of acquisition are the most crucial factors in L3 phonological acquisition, which is insight that further supports existing theories of L3 acquisition.

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