Document Type

Thesis

Degree

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Linguistics

First Advisor's Name

Mehmet Yavas

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Tometro Hopkins

Third Advisor's Name

Jean-Robert Cadely

Keywords

phonetics, bilingualism, speech production

Date of Defense

12-3-2012

Abstract

Prominent views in second language acquisition suggest that the age of L2 learning is inversely correlated with native-like pronunciation (Scovel, 1988; Birdsong, 1999). The relationship has been defined in terms of the Critical Period Hypothesis, whereby various aspects of neural cognition simultaneously occur near the onset of puberty, thus inhibiting L2 phonological acquisition. The current study tests this claim of a chronological decline in pronunciation aptitude through the examination of a key trait of American English – reduced vowels, or “schwas.” Groups of monolingual, early bilingual, and late bilingual participants were directly compared across a variety of environments phonologically conditioned for vowel reduction. Results indicate that late bilinguals have greater degrees of difficulty in producing schwas, as expected. Results further suggest that the degree of differentiation between schwa is larger than previously identified and that these subtle differences may likely be a contributive factor to the perception of a foreign accent in bilingual speakers.

Identifier

FI12120519

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