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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cross-language Activation and the Phonetics of Code-switching

  • Author(s): Piccinini, Page Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Garellek, Marc
  • et al.

It is now well established that bilinguals have both languages activated to some degree at all times. This cross-language activation has been documented in several research paradigms, including picture naming, reading, and electrophysiological studies. What is less well understood is how the degree a language is activated can vary in different language environments or contexts. Furthermore, when investigating effects of order of acquisition and language dominance, past research has been mixed, as the two variables are often conflated. In this dissertation, I test how degree of cross-language activation can vary according to context by examining phonetic productions in code-switching speech. Both spontaneous speech and scripted speech are analyzed. Follow-up perception experiments are conducted to see if listeners are able to anticipate language switches, potentially due to the phonetic cues in the signal. Additionally, by focusing on early bilinguals who are L1 Spanish but English dominant, I am able to see what plays a greater role in cross-language activation, order of acquisition or language dominance. I find that speakers do have intermediate phonetic productions in code-switching contexts relative to monolingual contexts. Effects are larger and more consistent in English than Spanish. Similar effects are found in speech perception. Listeners are able to anticipate language switches from English to Spanish but not Spanish to English. Together these results suggest that language dominance is a more important factor than order of acquisition in cross-language activation for early bilinguals. Future models on bilingual language organization and access should take into account both context and language dominance when modeling degrees of cross-language activation.

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