Connected Speech Phenomena in Spanish-English bilingual children (updated – 11/26/19)


Gemma Repiso Puigdelliura





Spanish and Portuguese




Ji Young Kim



[updated 11/26719 I updated the abstract to change the focus of the study from lexical stress to connected speech phenomena. I am still investigating the development of Spanish phonology, but now I am looking at a slightly different process in Spanish phonology] Heritage Speakers (HS) are a type of bilinguals that have a family language that is not a majority language in the society (Benmamoun et al., 2013). In the US, the largest community of heritage speakers is constituted by Spanish-English bilinguals, frequently from Mexican descent. Recent studies suggest that the phonological system of Spanish heritages speakers presents divergences from the monolingual norms (see Rao, 2016 for a review), probably due to the reduced input in Spanish and increasing exposure to English during childhood and adolescence. The purpose of this study is to investigate what factors contribute to the complete acquisition of the Spanish phonological system during childhood and compare the results to adult heritage speakers. The study will focus on the acquisition of resyllabification in Spanish. Resyllabification is a word-external process of syllabification by which word-final consonants preceding vowels (VC#V -[] ‘a tree’) affiliate with the vowel of the subsequent word (V#CV - [u.nar.Bol] ‘a tree’).
In English, the final consonant affiliates both with the coda position and the onset resulting into ambisyllabic consonants (e.g flapping in sought Ed). However, ambisyllabicity optionally competes with glottal stop insertion in the repair of empty onsets (Scobbie, 2010; Bissiri, 2011). For this reason, the influence of the ambient language might result into the optional use of glottal stops in Spanish heritage speakers.

The research questions that this study will address are: What is the development (e.g. from childhood into adulthood) of the repair strategies for empty onsets (e.g. resyllabification or glottal stop insertion) in heritage speakers? Do adult heritage speakers present acquisition with mastery of the resyllabification process? If not, is this a result of incomplete acquisition during childhood or of language loss? Does glottal stop insertion occur at the same rate in Spanish than in English in Spanish-English bilinguals? And, is the process of acquisition of resyllabification rule-based or usage-based? That is, do bilinguals apply resyllabification to the same rate in nonce words than in real words?

Participants for this study will consist of 3 groups of bilingual children – Group 1: 4-6 years (N=20), Group 2: 7-10 years (N=20), Group 3: 10-14 years (N=20) and their respective age-matched monolingual controls from Mexico, and 1 group of heritage speakers (N=20) and its respective age-matched monolingual control in Mexico (or long-term immigrants in the US). Frequency of input in both English and Spanish will be gathered for all the groups of speakers using background questionnaires. The experiment will be conducted during two experimental sessions of 25 minutes each and will consist of 4 pictures naming tasks, two in Spanish and two in English and two story-telling tasks. The first task will use real words to elicit the sequence quantifier + noun in vowel-initial words (un hombre `a man', dos ardillas `two squirrels') and consonant-initial words (un nombre `a name', una sardina `a sardine'). The first syllable of both the vowel-initial word and consonant-initial word will be matched for stress and phoneme identity. The second task will be a nonce word task, where participants will be presented with new words and they will be asked to repeat them with the quantifier in vowel-initial syllable (e.g un eda) and consonant initial words (e.g. dos nemas). The same three tasks will be repeated in English in the second session. Acoustic measurements will be performed on the spoken productions. Presence of glottal stop will be analyzed by means of degree of voice breaks, fraction of locally unvoiced pitch frames, jitter and Harmonics-to-noise Ratio (HNR) (Scarpace, 2017) Segment duration (e.g. coda consonant and vowel onset/nucleus) and start of the f0 rise will be analyzed to examine degree of resyllabification. The story telling task will be based on Frog where are you (Mayer, 1969) and will elicit spontaneous speech and will be used to calculate mean length of utterance and measures of lexical diversity.


[updated 11/26/19 I updated the abstract to change the focus of the study from lexical stress to connected speech phenomena. Although I will still be using production tasks with words and nonce-words, this time, instead of eliciting one single word I will elicit the article and the content word (e.g. el mingo `the mingo`). I have also reduced the tasks for lack of time. I have included a session in English to compare the results between the two languages. The two sessions contain the same exercises.]] The purpose of this study is to investigate the development of the Spanish phonological system and its interaction with the English phonological system during childhood to better understand the adult end state grammars. The study addresses the acquisition of resyllabification in Spanish. Resyllabification is a word-external process of syllabification by which word-final consonants preceding vowels (VC#V -[] ‘a tree’) affiliate with the vowel of the subsequent word (V#CV - [u.nar.Bol] ‘a tree’). In order to examine this process, two tasks will be conducted in Spanish and English. The first task will be a real word naming task, that will elicit coda consonant + vowel in a sequence of function word and content word (e.g. 'un oso' a bear). The second task will elicit novel words in the same sequence function word and content word (e.g. 'el ingo'). Novel words are included to control for lexical frequency effects when retrieving the content words, since highly frequent content words might interact less with the English phonological system than less frequent content words.


[updated 11/26/19 I have updated the goals accordingly. Although I will still look at the development of Spanish phonology, I am now particularly looking at the development of connected speech (in lieu of lexical stress) ]
RQ1: What is the development (e.g. from childhood into adulthood) of the repair strategies for empty onsets (e.g. resyllabification or glottal stop insertion) in heritage speakers? How does the English phonological system influence the Spanish phonological system when resyllabifying final consonants?
RQ2: Does English exert a greater influence on the Spanish phonological system in high frequency words than in novel words?
RQ4: Is the process of acquisition of resyllabification influenced by non linear phonology (rule-based accounts) or by constructionist models (usage-based models)?


This research will provide an approach to the development of speaking bilities in Spanish-English bilinguals attending a dual language program, which will be key to identify potential patterns in the development of these abilities. Along with it, the study will provide a comprehensive explanation of the development of the children’s phonological abilities.


This will be a PhD dissertation project.




This study investigates the phonological development of early Spanish-English bilinguals. We are interested in the students that receive both input at home and in the classroom. Thus, we will select participants according to their use of Spanish at home. Caregivers will be given a questionnaire in which they will have to answer how often they speak Spanish at home and how often they speak Spanish to their children. Children that have not been in contact with Spanish at home will not be selected.
Children with no exposure to Spanish prior to being schooled will not be selected for this study. This exclusion criteria is based on the main purpose of the research, which is to better understand how the phonological system of eraly Spanish-English bilinguals develops from the first years of instruction to the later stages. These speakers will have to show certain proficiency in Spanish by the age they start primary school.

[ Updated 12/9/19 In order to compare the English productions of the Spanish-English bilinguals I will have English monolinguals as the baseline. For this reason, in this amendment I added the English monolingual participants] These speakers must be only exposed to English in their households.

[Updated 1/24/2020] Students from the following group levels will be recruited:
Spanish-English English only
Group 1 (ECI, ECII, 1st Grade ) 20 20
Group 2 (2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade) 20 20
Group 3 (Upper I / Upper II) 20 20


- Parents and caregivers will have to respond to the parental questionnaire to obtain information on the quantity and quality of input in Spanish that children are exposed to.

[ Updated 11/26/19 I reduced the content of the sessions because during my pilot study I realized that the sessions were too ambitious. I collapsed the Spanish session into one session and I included an English session to compare between the languages. The tasks to elicit the part of speech in which I am interested are still production tasks using novel words and real words]

Session 1 in Spanish: production task real words (10 min) + production task novel words (10 min) + story telling task (Frog Where Are You? (Mayer 1969) (5 min)
Session 2 in English: production task real words (10 min) + production task novel words (10 min) + story telling task (5min) (Frog Where Are You? (Mayer 1969) (5 min) [ Updated 11/26/19]

English monolinguals will only perform the session in English.


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Story telling task, production task with novel words and real words


[updated 11/26/19 - The type of production task will be the same to the one approved in the previous application. However, this time the pictures and the names elicited will be different.]
Word naming task with real words: The word naming task is a an elicitation task in which there are 2 pictures on the screen for trial and participants are asked questions regarding the identity of these images. For instance: "There is a lion here? And here?" (pointing at the image of a tiger and expecting the response "un tigre"). This task will allow us to identify how children connect the words "un" + "tigre" in semi-spontaneous speech.
Word naming task with novel words: This task uses the same elicitation method as the task above. However, in this case, participants are asked to remember 1 novel word in each trial (e.g. "this is a mingo") and they are presented with a real word and a novel word. In every trial they are asked to answer a question relating the identity of the images presented (e.g. which one is blue?).

Story telling task: Participants will describe the pictures in the frog story (Frog goes to Dinner, Mercer Mayer) and they will narrate the story in the present. This instrument accounts for the production of lexcial stress in a non-controlled environment.

Parental Questionnaire: A questionnaire based on the “Evaluator’s toolkit for Dual Language Programs” will be administered to the participants’ caregivers along with the consent form. The questionnaire inquires into the quantity and quality of Spanish input to which the child is exposed at home.


The present research investigates the development of connected speech phenomena in Spanish-English bilinguals. The session in English will serve as the baseline and will be compared to the session in Spanish in order to determine the degree of influence from the societal dominant language (English) into the home language (Spanish). The production task eliciting real words will allow us to understand the interaction between the Spanish and English phonological systems when word frequency is high. In those words that children use frequently the interaction between Spanish and English phonology might be smaller than in those wordsto which children have never been exposed (novel words). The production task eliciting novel words will give us information about postlexical phenomena (between words) when the words are not represented in the lexicon. This will give us a measure of phonological interaction between English and Spanish in the absence of word frequency. The monolingual English participants will only perform the task in English. [updated 11/26/19 - The type of production task will be the same, but the language phenomenon that I am looking at is now connected speech. Thus, I am changing the words that I will elicit. ]
The two sessions will be recorded using a Zoom N4 Recorder, since we will perform acoustic analysis to the production of lexical stress (duration, intensity, pitch height), the reading abilities (pauses, rhythm, lexical stress). For the phonemic and syllabic test, the response time will be calculated using the recordings.


We attach the parental consent form (in Spanish and English) that will be given to the children’s caregivers and the assent form (in Spanish and English) that will be given to the children.


To our knowledge, there are no risks or discomforts involved in this research.


Participants will not be informed of the main purpose of this study, that is, the production and perception of lexical stress in Spanish. Participants will be told that the study investigates the production of the sounds in Spanish. This is necessary, so that participants do not pay attention to the lexical stress in the production and perception test.
There will be no debriefing.


Personal identifying information is collected separately will not be stored or shared with any external entity or investigator. Every participant will be assigned an identifier that will be used to separate collected linguistic data in ages, language proficiency and socioeconomic status. Only the principal investigator will have access to the list of correspondence between identifiers and personal identifying information. Linguistic data will be collected by the principal investigator, Gemma Repiso Puigdelliura and will be recorded using a Zoom Recorder H4n PRO and a microphone (AKG Pro Audio C520 Professional Head-Worn Condenser Microphone). Recordings will be stored for further analysis but will not be linked to the collected personal identifying information.


Both sessions will not exceed the 30 minutes each.


Previous meeting with Rebecca Heinese, Lead Teacher of the Spanish Program.




Spanish Phonology


The reading assessment will be performed using an abbreviated version of the PROLEC-R test (–Revisad.aspx). However, if possible, I would like to triangulate the results with reading evaluation scores from the Lab School Database. Thus, I would like to have access to the reading results from the reading evaluation method Estructura Para la Evaluación del nivel independiente de lectura (ENIL).

Additionally, I would like to have information on the nature of the dual language program along the different courses:
a) Dual Language Program Model (e.g. 90/10, 50/50)
b) Hours of exposure to Spanish in every grade
c) Number of subjects/ courses taught in Spanish


The tests will be administered in a private room.










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