Infants growing up in bilingual environments are exposed to a complex input that contains information relative to two different phonological systems. Early in development they must be able to differentiate the sound patterns of their two languages and start building language-specific phonetic categories. From a phonological development perspective, input to bilinguals differs from monolinguals' not only in complexity (two lexicons, two phonologies), but also in the quantity and quality of exposure to each language. Moreover, the degree of proximity between the specific lexical, phonological, and morpho-syntactical properties of the two ambient languages is also a relevant factor. The complex and more variable nature of input to bilingual infants can determine minor time-course differences in reaching specific sound discrimination abilities or in stabilizing certain phonetic categories when comparing bilingual and monolingual infants. Early language differentiation processes, the setting up of language-specific phonetic categories and phonological representations of sounds in the lexicon, might also differ when comparing bilinguals from different pairs of languages. This paper presents a review of the main results obtained in phonetic discrimination and categorization studies with Spanish-Catalan and English-French bilingual infants. Current knowledge of their tuning to the specific categories in their ambient languages is summarized and the role of different factors in bilinguals' phonetic categorization and phonological representation processes is discussed. The paper concludes that differences between bilinguals and monolinguals should be considered as adaptive to the specific properties of their linguistic input, rather than delays.
Selected Proceedings of the 4th Conference on Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonology
edited by Marta Ortega-Llebaria
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