The impact of code-switching and cognate status on phonetic realizations in the New Mexican Spanish-English bilingual community

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Balukas, Colleen Patricia
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 08, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Rena Torres Cacoullos, Dissertation Advisor
  • Rena Torres Cacoullos, Committee Chair
  • John Lipski, Committee Member
  • Marianna Nadeu, Committee Member
  • Barry Richard Page Jr., Committee Member
  • Eleonora Rossi, Committee Member
  • Bilingualism
  • code-switching
  • phonetics
  • phonology
  • language contact
  • Spanish
  • English
Studies on bilingual phonetic interaction in the context of code-switching and cognate words have been largely limited to elicited speech in laboratory settings. This dissertation examines these topics by analyzing spontaneous conversational data consisting of sociolinguistic interviews with New Mexican Spanish-English bilinguals. The measure of phonetic interaction is voice onset time (VOT) realization of /ptk/ in Spanish and English. The first study tests the hypothesis that code-switching results in increased phonetic interaction between languages by utilizing a novel measure, time elapsed from code- switching. In the study, the average VOT duration values in New Mexican bilingual Spanish fall within the range typical of non-contact varieties, while VOT in New Mexican bilingual English displays overall lower values compared to non-contact varieties. This asymmetry is repeated when the effect of the distance from code-switching is considered. In Spanish, code-switching has no observable effect on VOT duration values. In English, close proximity to code-switching (within 2.5 seconds) is associated with a significant reduction in VOT duration. Additionally, English VOT values, but not Spanish ones, are shorter for New Mexican bilinguals who self-report slightly higher Spanish proficiency. This finding highlights the importance that small variations in language background and experience can have on bilingual phonetics. While the findings on code-switching distance do not establish switching as a causal mechanism of long- term phonological convergence, they would be consistent with such a hypothesis. Importantly, unlike the convergence hypothesized for morpho-syntax in US Spanish varieties, it appears that English, not Spanish, phonetics are affected by code-switching. The second study tests the hypothesis that cognate words, which overlap in form and meaning across a bilingual’s two languages, lead to increased language interaction that is reflected in phonetic realization. Cognate and non-cognate words beginning with /ptk/ are compared in Spanish and English in the same New Mexican bilingual speakers. While in the aggregate, cognate status shows a small impact on VOT duration values in New Mexican Spanish only, the effect is not significant. However, in Spanish, cognate words are impacted by the presence of code-switching within the same Intonational Unit (IU), while non-cognates are not. Specifically, Spanish cognates display increased VOT duration (in the direction of English) when code-switching is present. In both Spanish and English, background factors such as context of acquisition and self-rating impact cognates, but of the non-cognates, only English non-cognates are affected by Spanish rating. These findings suggest that cognate status becomes important in the context of code-switching in spontaneous speech, and that cognates may be differentially impacted by individual speakers’ background traits compared to non-cognates. Finally, the observation that code-switching impacts VOT duration in New Mexican bilinguals’ English only, while cognate status impacts the same measure in New Mexican bilinguals’ Spanish only, suggests that the precise mechanisms of cross-language interaction in each of these bilingual phenomena may differ.