Heritage speakers’ use of prosodic strategies in focus marking in Spanish

Heritage speakers’ use of prosodic strategies in focus marking in Spanish

Kim, Ji-Young, 2018, International Journal of Bilingualism


Aims and objectives:
The present study investigates how focus is prosodically realized by Spanish heritage speakers, and whether they show different patterns from Spanish monolinguals and English second language (L2) learners of Spanish.

Prompt questions were auditorily presented to elicit participants’ production of sentences with different scopes and locations of focus.

Data and analysis:
Relative prosodic prominence between focused and non-focused constituents, as well as tonal alignment, were acoustically analyzed and compared across the groups. Additional strategies that participants used are also presented.

The results revealed that all three groups used multiple strategies, both prosodic and non-prosodic, to express focus in Spanish. However, the specific cues that were used differed in each group. Monolinguals and L2 learners clearly differed from each other in that the former preferred non-prosodic strategies (e.g., cleft constructions, complementizer que ‘that’), while the latter used various prosodic strategies (e.g., relative prosodic prominence, early peak alignment, post-focal deaccenting). Heritage speakers, on the other hand, used a mix of strategies that were observed in both monolinguals’ and L2 learners’ speech.

Prosody is an understudied area in heritage language research. This is one of few studies that examined Spanish heritage speakers’ use of prosodic cues in the realization of focus in Spanish and the first to extensively analyze various acoustic correlates of focus produced by Spanish heritage speakers.

The findings suggest that heritage speakers are flexible in their use of linguistic strategies as they are able to extract resources from their two language systems.

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