Voice onset time across the generations

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We investigate Voice Onset Time (VOT) of voiceless stops in conversational speech in a transitional bilingual context. We examine the speech of three generations of bilinguals whose Heritage Language (HL) is one of three European languages (Italian, Russian, or Ukrainian) and who also speak English. The data are extracted from recordings of sociolinguistic interviews conducted in Toronto that are contained in the Heritage Language Documentation Corpus (Nagy 2009). We examine word-initial /p, t, k/ in stressed syllables before /a/ and /o/ (~150 tokens per speaker), produced by 18 individuals representing three to five generations of speakers in each language. Unlike in English, voiceless stops in Italian, Russian, and Ukrainian are realized with a short lag VOT, defined as < 30 ms. Comparison of the HL patterns to previously published results on the VOT of monolingual speakers of these languages and monolingual speakers of English illustrates contact-induced influence: across the generations, the VOT of these speakers drifts away from the monolingual short lag toward the long lag of English for Russian and Ukrainian. Puzzlingly, the cross-generational change is (slightly) in the opposite direction for Italian. We discuss possible reasons for these different outcomes as well as contrasting them with the lack of cross-generational change found in analyses of pro-drop in the same corpus.


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