Acquiring allophonic structure and phonetic detail in a bilingual community : The production of laterals by Sylheti-English bilingual children

Kirkham, Sam and McCarthy, Kathleen M. (2021) Acquiring allophonic structure and phonetic detail in a bilingual community : The production of laterals by Sylheti-English bilingual children. International Journal of Bilingualism, 25 (3). pp. 531-547. ISSN 1367-0069

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Aims and objectives In this study, we consider the acquisition of allophonic contrast and phonetic detail in lateral consonants by second-generation Sylheti-English bilingual children in London, UK. Design/methodology/approach Acoustic analysis was conducted on productions of /l/ by Sylheti bilingual children, Sylheti monolingual adults and English monolingual children. Data and analysis Tokens of /l/ were elicited across initial, medial and final word positions from 14 bilingual Sylheti-English children, 10 monolingual English children, and 4 monolingual Sylheti adults. Acoustic measurements of F2–F1 were analysed using Bayesian linear mixed-effects modelling. Findings and conclusions Our results show that bilingual children produce monolingual-like positional patterns in Sylheti, producing very clear laterals in all positions. In contrast, bilinguals produce monolingual-like positional allophony in English, but they differ in phonetic detail, with bilinguals producing much clearer laterals than monolingual children across all positions. Originality This study is the first to examine the development of allophonic contrast and phonetic detail in both of a bilingual’s languages in a contact scenario. This provides new insights into how contact varieties adopt aspects of structure and detail from each language. We also report valuable data from Sylheti-English bilinguals, who are an understudied community. Significance/limitations Our study highlights the value of considering structural and detailed aspects of cross-linguistic sound systems, whereby one aspect may show monolingual-like patterns and another aspect may show distinctive patterns. We propose that the results in this study represent the development of a new sound system out of language contact, with second-generation bilingual children producing a hybrid system that combines influences from both heritage and host languages.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
International Journal of Bilingualism
Additional Information:
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, International Journal of Bilingualism, 25, 3 (2021), 2021, © SAGE Publications Ltd, 2020 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the International Journal of Bilingualism page: on SAGE Journals Online:
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? bilingualismchild bilingualsphoneticslateral consonantsallophonic variationcontact varietiessylhetilinguistics and languagelanguage and linguisticseducation ??
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Deposited On:
14 Jul 2020 14:20
Last Modified:
15 May 2024 03:13