Increased language co-activation leads to enhanced cross-linguistic phonetic convergence

Miquel Simonet, Mark Amengual

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study investigates the effects of bilingual language modes (or settings) on the speech production patterns of a group of early Catalan/Spanish bilinguals from Majorca, Spain. Our main research question was as follows: are bilingual speech patterns modulated by the level of (co-)activation of a bilingual’s two languages? Design: Bilingual participants were classified as a function of their linguistic experience (or dominance), from Catalan- to Spanish-dominant. Subsequently, we recorded their speech in two experimental settings: a unilingual setting in which only Catalan words were uttered, and a bilingual setting in which both Catalan and Spanish words (cognates) were produced in random order. Data and analysis: The study examined the acoustic realization of Spanish and Catalan unstressed /a/, which surfaces as [a] in Spanish but is reduced to schwa, [ə], in Catalan. The acoustic characteristics of unstressed /a/ were explored across the two languages and the two experimental settings. Findings: Catalan unstressed /a/, which was similarly reduced to schwa in the speech of all participants, became slightly more similar to Spanish unstressed /a/ (i.e., it had a higher first formant) when produced alongside Spanish words (bilingual setting) than when produced in a Catalan unilingual setting. There were no effects of linguistic experience, and the effects of setting did not interact with experience. Originality: Very few studies have reported the effects of dynamic cross-linguistic interference in phonetic production, and even fewer have reported them with a phonetic variable resulting from a language-specific phonological process (unstressed vowel reduction) rather than a phonemic contrast. Implications: These findings suggest that cross-linguistic interaction is dynamic and modulated by language activation, and that an absence of dominance effects does not necessarily entail an absence of online cross-linguistic phonetic influence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-221
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Catalan
  • Phonetics
  • Spanish
  • bilingual language modes
  • cross-linguistic influence
  • unstressed vowel reduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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