Linguistics Colloquium: Laura Spinu, Assistant Professor, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY

NOV 19, 2020 | 4:15 PM TO 6:15 PM



Online Event


November 19, 2020: 4:15 PM-6:15 PM




Laura Spinu, Assistant Professor, Communication Kingsborough Community College, CUNY presents:

Phonetic and phonological learning in bilinguals: emerging methodologies and areas of research

Experimental work has uncovered certain consequences of bilingualism on cognitive function, sometimes referred to as a bilingual advantage (Bialystok 2018). In recent years, however, the term has been losing popularity (Marzecova 2015) as the existence of this advantage has been questioned (Donnelly 2016, Paap & Greenberg 2013). These contradictions are thought to arise due to theoretical and methodological issues, such as the difficulty of quantifying the bilingual experience (Del Maschio & Abutalebi 2018), grouping bilinguals and multilinguals together in experimental designs (Higby et al. 2013), or the fact that some of the posited advantages of bilingualism are thought to be most evident in childhood and old age, but ‘muted’ in adulthood (Bialystok et al. 2012). Emerging areas of research where a consistent bilingual advantage has been identified with young adults include studies on phonetic and phonological learning (Antoniou et al. 2015, Tremblay & Sabourin 2012). In this talk, I expand on existing work by exploring monolinguals' and bilinguals' ability to learn multiple features of a naturalistically produced novel accent of English after brief initial exposure. We trained and tested 30 monolinguals and 30 early bilinguals living in New York City on an artificially constructed accent differing in four ways from Standard American English. More precisely, the novel accent included a vocalic change (diphthongization of the open-mid front unrounded vowel), consonantal change (tapping of intervocalic liquids), syllable structure change (epenthesis in voiceless sclusters) and intonation change (a novel, mid-low-high intonation pattern in tag questions). Learning was more effective in bilinguals compared to monolinguals across the board. At the same time, even though fewer monolinguals successfully learned the novel intonation pattern, their production more accurately reproduced this pattern when they did learn it, compared to bilinguals. These findings indicate potential differences in the learning strategies of the two groups of speakers, for instance in terms of conscious versus more automatic learning. Considering also that the intonation feature was always sentence-final, another potential explanation arises in terms of memory mechanisms (Calabrese 2012, Signorelli et al. 2011).

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* The colloquium will be recorded and available for two weeks at