Language dominance shapes non-linguistic rhythmic grouping in bilinguals

Cognition. 2016 Jul;152:150-159. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2016.03.023. Epub 2016 Apr 7.


To what degree non-linguistic auditory rhythm perception is governed by universal biases (e.g., Iambic-Trochaic Law; Hayes, 1995) or shaped by native language experience is debated. It has been proposed that rhythmic regularities in spoken language, such as phrasal prosody affect the grouping abilities of monolinguals (e.g., Iversen, Patel, & Ohgushi, 2008). Here, we assessed the non-linguistic tone grouping biases of Spanish monolinguals, and three groups of Basque-Spanish bilinguals with different levels of Basque experience. It is usually assumed in the literature that Basque and Spanish have different phrasal prosodies and even linguistic rhythms. To confirm this, first, we quantified Basque and Spanish phrasal prosody (Experiment 1a) and duration patterns used in the classification of languages into rhythm classes (Experiment 1b). The acoustic measurements revealed that regularities in phrasal prosody systematically differ across Basque and Spanish; by contrast, the rhythms of the two languages are only minimally dissimilar. In Experiment 2, participants' non-linguistic rhythm preferences were assessed in response to non-linguistic tones alternating in either intensity (Intensity condition) or in duration (Duration condition). In the Intensity condition, all groups showed a trochaic grouping bias, as predicted by the Iambic-Trochaic Law. In the Duration Condition the Spanish monolingual and the most Basque-dominant bilingual group exhibited opposite grouping preferences in line with the phrasal prosodies of their native/dominant languages, trochaic in Basque, iambic in Spanish. The two other bilingual groups showed no significant biases, however. Overall, results indicate that duration-based grouping mechanisms are biased toward the phrasal prosody of the native and dominant language; also, the presence of an L2 in the environment interacts with the auditory biases.

Keywords: Bilingualism; Non-linguistic tone; Phrasal prosody; Rhythmic grouping.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Phonetics*
  • Speech Perception*
  • Speech Production Measurement
  • Young Adult