Mariela Lopez Abstracts

Mariela Lopez

Ph.D. Candidate

Second Language Acquisition & Teaching GIDP


International Symposium on Bilingualism

Alberta, Canada

June 23-28, 2019


In the Spanish spoken in Sonora, Mexico, the phoneme that corresponds to the digraph <ch> may be pronounced either as an affricate, [tʃ], or as a fricative, [ʃ] (Alessi Molina & Torres Díaz, 1994; Brown, 1989; Serrano Morales, 2000). Within Mexico, [ʃ] (as a variant of <ch>) characterizes the speech of various northwestern states but not that of the states in the central high valley (Carreón Serna, 2007; Mendez, 2017; Moreno de Alba, 1994). Sociophonetic studies have shown that, in northwestern Mexican Spanish, the choice of [tʃ] vs. [ʃ] (as variants of <ch>) is modulated by a variety of social factors (Carreón Serna, 2007; Herrera Zendejas, 2006; Mendez, 2017). This creates an interesting asymmetry: Whereas people who reside in the central high valley of Mexico are exposed to only one of the phonetic variants of <ch>, those who live in the northwestern region are recurrently exposed to two. How does sociophonetic variation in one’s native language modulate phonological development of one’s second language? In English, [tʃ] and [ʃ] are phonemic, as they contrast in minimal pairs such as chair and share. The present study examines the phonological encoding of English /tʃ/ and /ʃ/ in a categorical discrimination task with two participant groups, a group of native Spanish speakers studying English as a foreign language in Sonora and another group studying English in Querétaro, in central Mexico. We recruited participants from various proficiency levels in both locations. We hypothesized that the Querétaro learners would outperform the Sonorans in a processing task that required them to discriminate English /tʃ/ and /ʃ/, since, for the Sonoran learners (but not the central Mexicans), both sounds exist in their native variety but are linked with the same phoneme. A perception task explored the learner’s discrimination of a target contrast (cheatsheet), and three control contrasts (cheat-seat, sheet-seat, seat-sit). The results confirmed our hypothesis.

Abstract for Lay Audience

The research study “SOCIOPHONETIC VARIATION IN THE L1 AFFECTS L2 PHONOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT” investigates how experience with Sonoran Spanish, a dialect spoken in the northwestern region of Mexico, affects the patterns of spoken word recognition as well as the learning paths of English sounds.  In Sonoran Spanish, the sound that corresponds to the digraph <ch>, as in charco ‘puddle,’ may be pronounced either as ch (as in cheap) or as sh (as in sheep) (Brown, 1989). This linguistic phenomenon is known as shesheo (Mendez, 2017), and it is a distinctive feature of norteño dialect, spoken in Sonora, Baja California, Durango, and Chihuahua (Serrano, 2000). The presence of both sound variants in free variation within the same community suggests that northwestern speakers have learned to store in their mental dictionary a word like charco ‘puddle’ in variable form, whereas people from other regions of Mexico possess a single mental representation for this word.  Several investigations have revealed that dialect experience strongly affects the patterns of recognition of words with different sound variants (Pitt, 2009). No previous investigations, however, have yet analyzed the effects of dialect experience in the perception and recognition of sounds in a second language (L2). It is well known that L2 learners experience challenges when perceiving and/or producing L2 sounds. The Second Language Linguistic Perception Model (L2LP; Escudero, 2005) accounts for these difficulties, and it further takes into consideration the learners’ individual first language (L1) accentual features, including that of dialect, to determine the way they perceive and gradually learn L2 speech sounds. Since native accentual features modulate language learning paths, a logical question is whether people who speak two different dialects of the same language will have different experiences when learning the same language. This study employs a categorical experiment to investigate linguistic experience and its role on the acquisition of English sounds by speakers of Sonoran Spanish. In a categorical experiment, participants listen to an individual word or a set of words and are asked to indicate, by pressing a button, what word they believe to have heard from a closed list of options. Percentage of categorization correctness and response times will be measured and compared across participants and groups. Data for these studies will be collected in two locations, Hermosillo and Querétaro, Mexico, representing two dialect areas. This investigation is the first one to explore Sonoran Spanish from a cognitive perspective, using psycholinguistic techniques to study the effects of dialect experience on the perception of L2 sounds.   Although the academic interest in the Spanish in the United States has recently expanded, the study of Sonoran Spanish, a variety of Spanish widely spoken in the Southwest of the US, including Tucson (Casillas, 2012), has remained virtually unexplored. These studies will contribute to the further understanding and familiarization of a Spanish variety with a strong presence among the different communities of Spanish speakers in Arizona. It will also describe the learning paths of two major groups of English learners differing in native accent but sharing a native language.


Last updated 24 Feb 2020