Age effects and the discrimination of consonantal and vocalic contrasts in heritage and native Spanish

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This study explores the perception of consonantal and vocalic contrasts in two groups of Spanish-English bilingual speakers: heritage speakers and long-term immigrants. We test the discrimination of Spanish stops and mid and high vowels via an AX discrimination task with natural stimuli consisting of real Spanish words. Overall, results revealed no significant differences between heritage speakers and long-term immigrants in their discrimination of Spanish stops and vowels. Both groups were more accurate in their discrimination of vowels than of consonants. As for the discrimination of stops, positional and place effects were observed; i.e. a higher proportion of errors was found in word-initial position and with dorsals. We argue that contact with English does not necessarily affect the discrimination of the Spanish contrasts. Implications of these results for maturational approaches to final L2 attainment are discussed.


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