Rhythm Variation in Speakers of Spanish as a Heritage Language



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Within the field of Spanish as a Heritage Language, phonology is an area of linguistics that has received the least attention. In particular, prosodic phonology (which encompasses tone, stress and rhythm) has garnered even less consideration by researchers. As such, this research project sought to understand how the rhythm systems of English and Spanish behave in the language produced by Spanish/English bilinguals who belong to different levels on a bilingual continuum. In other words, the objective was to understand the extent to which Spanish/English bilinguals are able to separate the rhythm systems depending on their relative dominance in each language.
This study employed the well-established rhythm metric, the normalized Pairwise Variability Index (Grabe & Low, 2002) to calculate the durational variability of vocalic and intervocalic intervals in each language. Results of the study show that the more balanced a bilingual speaker is (that is, he or she speaks both languages with similar proficiency), the better he or she is able to separate the rhythms of English and Spanish. On the contrary, the more heavily a speaker dominates one language over the other, the more the rhythm of the dominant language transfers to and effects the rhythm of the non dominant language.



Bilingualism, Phonology, Heritage languages, Spanish language, Prosody, Rhythm