A sociophonetic study of English-Arabic bilingual children

This paper outlines some of the findings from an investigation into the speech production of two English-Arabic bilingual children. The subjects are two Lebanese boys who were born and raised in Leeds and who were aged six and nine at the time of the investigation. Analysis of the subjects’ sociolinguistic behaviour with respect to accentual features salient in their community suggests that they are opting for sociolinguistically unmarked variants in their speech.

An examination of the children’s glottal stop production in English and Arabic shows that the subjects are aware of the different roles [ʔ] plays in each language and of the appropriate phonological contexts for its occurrence; however, the amount of glottalling expected in Leeds English does not seem to have filtered into their production. Auditory analysis of the subjects’ production of six English vowels (chosen among vowels that have marked local realisations in Leeds) reveals that few of the subjects’ realisations correspond to those found in the Leeds accent. The interpretation of this phenomenon is complex, involving a combination of factors, some of which are related to the bilinguals’ sociolinguistic background, and others related to sociolinguistic changes which may be affecting the whole community.

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