English speech acquisition in Russian-English (RE) bilingual children was investigated, exploring the effects of Russian phonetic and phonological properties on English single-word productions. Russian has more complex consonants and clusters and a smaller vowel inventory than English.
One hundred thirty-seven single-word samples were phonetically transcribed from 14 RE and 28 English-only (E) children, ages 3;3 (years;months) to 5;7. Language and age differences were compared descriptively for phonetic inventories. Multivariate analyses compared phoneme accuracy and error rates between the two language groups.
RE children produced Russian-influenced phones in English, including palatalized consonants and trills, and demonstrated significantly higher rates of trill substitution, final devoicing, and vowel errors than E children, suggesting Russian language effects on English. RE and E children did not differ in their overall production complexity, with similar final consonant deletion and cluster reduction error rates, similar phonetic inventories by age, and similar levels of phonetic complexity. Both older language groups were more accurate than the younger language groups.
We observed effects of Russian on English speech acquisition; however, there were similarities between the RE and E children that have not been reported in previous studies of speech acquisition in bilingual children. These findings underscore the importance of knowing the phonological properties of both languages of a bilingual child in assessment.