VOT production in English and Arabic bilingual and monolingual children

This paper presents findings from an instrumental study of Voice Onset Time (VOT) production in 3 English-Arabic bilingual children and 3 monolingual controls from each language. The subjects were all aged between 5 and 10, and the recordings were made in England and Lebanon. The aim was to find out whether bilinguals acquire separate VOT patterns for each language and whether these patterns are parallel to the monolingual ones. Results showed that the 3 bilinguals did acquire distinct VOT patterns for each language, but the patterns did not always resemble monolingual ones.

The main affected feature was voicing lead in Arabic, as it was often replaced with short lag. However, similar behaviour was found in the young monolingual children, which helped interpret some of the bilingual patterns in terms of normal developmental features rather than resorting to the usual explanations based on ‘language interference’. Results from both monolinguals and bilinguals showed that the differences between the two languages are finer than the three VOT categories suggest, particularly with respect to short lag. Finally developmental changes for two of the bilingual subjects over a period of 18 months revealed the importance of an interrelation between input and age for the acquisition of two independent phonological systems.

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