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Phonetic Alignment in English as a lingua franca: Effects of Style, Proficiency, and Native Language Influence

CGS Brown Bag Series
Sep 28, 2016
12:15 PM to 01:15 PM
463 Burrowes

Grant Berry, Penn State

As geographical borders diminish in importance and markets globalize, English is rapidly becoming a preferred language of discourse. In this talk, I present collaborative work (resulting from international collaboration with Mirjam Ernestus at Radboud University and funding by the National Science Foundation to the Center for Language Science) that explores those situations where both interlocutors are non-native speakers using English as a lingua franca. In order to investigate the flexibility of phonological categories in bilingual language production, recordings of Spanish-English bilinguals in Spain speaking with two Dutch-English bilingual confederates across two speech styles (the Nijmegen Corpus of Spanish English) were used to track the production patterns of two key vowel contrasts in English. The first, the difference between bit and beet, is not present in Spanish but is present in Dutch; the second, the difference between bat and bet, is not present in Dutch but is distinguished by Spanish speakers of English. Results of statistical analysis reveal that the Spaniards align their production patterns not to more native-like English (which would require a four-way contrast), but rather to the production patterns of their Dutch interlocutors. This is also a function of speech style and proficiency: Spaniards make the beet/bit distinction gradually over time in informal, but not formal speech, and more proficient speakers align more strongly than less proficient speakers to the merged bat/bet production of the Dutch speakers. These findings are interpreted in a framework where alignment to the patterns of one's interlocutor is a complex relationship among language-internal and language-external factors.

Grant Berry is a 2016-2017 Center for Global Studies Fellow. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in Spanish and Language Science in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese and an active member of the Center for Language Science. While he maintains varied interests in phonetics, phonology, and bilingualism, the nexus of his research is language variation and change. Grant's research examines sociodemographic and cognitive behavioral factors that link an individual to his/her community on the level of his/her linguistic production, especially in situations where language is undergoing change or is highly stratified along socioeconomic and/or ethnic lines. More information can be found at grantberry.info.

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