Maltese speakers of English – bilingualism or L2? An eye-tracking experiment testing the allophonic /t/ – /Ө/ representation of “th” in Maltese English
This study was done in collaboration with Prof. Holger Mitterer (Malta University) as result of my training in eye-tracking techniques applied to the investigation of (second) language acquisition and processing. English is one of the official languages in Malta for about 150 years and the natives from the island are understood to be Maltese-English bilinguals. However, some orthographic and phonological processes in Maltese English distinguish it from standard British English. Our main question is: is British English an L2 or a dialect for Maltese speakers? In order to start a range of investigations on this matter, we selected a clear grapheme-to-phoneme transfer in Maltese English: the realization of orthographic “th”, which seems to be allophonic between /t/ and / Ө/. Based on evidence from our eye-tracking – visual world paradigm – experiment and a production experiment, we observed that most Maltese English speakers (Maltese-English bilinguals) do not produce or perceive the distinction /t/ and /Ө/, independently of their English proficiency. These results add evidence to characterize the English variety spoken in Malta as a distinct English dialect.