Speech rhythm production in three German-English bilingual families

Rarely, if ever, in studies of the acquisition of more than one phonology has the speech of all the members of a bilingual family been examined within the same experiment. Rather it has been tacitly assumed that the parents’ speech complies with the phonetic or phonological characteristics of their respective native languages. For example, the impact of the parents’ second language on their native language, and regional and/or idiosyncratic features of the parents’ speech have not been taken into account, when evaluating the children’s production.

However, these possible discrepancies from the standard pronunciation might explain the children’s performance, particularly in the non-dominant language. An examination of the speech of parents and children will also provide the opportunity to compare L2 phonology with (developing) bilingual phonology. The experiment reported here compares the speech rhythm of utterances produced by the members of three German-English bilingual families. The children and adults were recorded during a story-telling task. The recordings were then analysed auditorily and acoustically. Rhythmic variability (Pairwise Variability Index) was calculated for intervocalic and vocalic intervals of the children’s utterances in both languages. The results show that bilingual children are in fact aware of fine-grained rhythmic variability in the linguistic input they receive, and are able to produce corresponding patterns which are, however, not necessarily identical with adult targets.

Download full article