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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Hispanic Literatures & Linguistics

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Danielle Thomas

Second Advisor

Luiz Amaral

Third Advisor

Joe Pater

Subject Categories

Indo-European Linguistics and Philology | Linguistics | Phonetics and Phonology | Spanish and Portuguese Language and Literature | Spanish Linguistics


Current models of generative phonology have failed to address the variability that is observed in bilingual language patterns patterns. This dissertation addresses exactly that issue by examining the perception of Spanish sC-clusters in Spanish monolinguals and English-Spanish bilinguals.

Surface sC-clusters in onset position are prohibited in Spanish and are repaired by inserting a prothetic /e/ (sC $\rightarrow$ esC). English differs in that it allows sC-cluster onsets, and the structure of the sC-cluster has been shown to differ based on the sonority profile (i.e., s+stop clusters are bisyllabic, s+liquid clusters are tautosyllabic). A batch version of a Harmonic Grammar Gradual Learning Algorithm (HG-GLA) was given Spanish input and predicted that Spanish sC-clusters may be syllabified differently based on the sonority of the sC-cluster. It predicted that s+stop clusters are more likely to instantiate /e/ prothesis than s+liqud clusters, but that s+liquid clusters are most likely to be syllabified as a true branching onset like in English. This led to the hypothesis that s+stop and s+liquid clusters may show observable differences in perception in Spanish.

Furthermore, studies in bilingualism have shown strong evidence for bilingual variability, or non-monolingual-like language behavior, particularly in areas where there is non-identical structural overlap, as is the case with sC-clusters in Spanish and English. The perception of s+stop and s+liquid clusters was thus also analyzed with respect to the following language-external variables that affect bilingual variability: language profile (monolingual versus bilingual), age of exposure to bilingualism, and bilingual dominance.

To test these hypotheses, two experiments were performed. The first was a replication of an AX task that has been shown to exhibit variability in Spanish sC-cluster perception in past studies. In this task, native Spanish speakers (monolingual and bilingual) listened to stimuli pairs that differed in the duration and quality of the initial vowel preceding the sC-cluster and were asked to respond if they were the same or different. The second was a nonce word judgment task where participants were presented with Spanish-like nonce words beginning with sC-clusters and had to give them acceptability ratings of how `Spanish-like' they sounded.

The results did not show evidence of a language-internal effect. s+stop and s+liquid clusters were treated the same in perception by Spanish native speakers, contrary to the predictions of the HG-GLA. Regarding the language-external variables, there was a strong effect of language profile on perception of sC-clusters in Spanish: monolinguals showed a strong dis-preference for sC-initial words, whereas bilinguals were more accepting of such clusters. However, the bilingual variability observed was not affected by age of exposure to bilingualism or by language dominance.

Finally, a sketch of a proposal is made for how generative theories of phonology, like Harmonic Grammar, could potentially be adapted to accommodate the observed differences between the phonotactics of monolinguals and bilinguals, particularly for the case of sC-clusters in English-Spanish bilinguals.