The Perception of Tap and Trill in Spanish-English Bilinguals

Lesley Vanessa Rodriguez, University of Texas at El Paso


The Spanish [ɾ] tap and [r] trill are two different phonemes that only contrast in the intervocalic position. In Spanish, the tap and trill contrast can only be found in thirty words, for example in (but) and (dog). Studies, such as Bradley and Willis (2012), demonstrate that, in production, taps and trills are variably neutralized among monolingual Spanish speakers. Neutralization of taps and trills creates an ambiguous signal that could be difficult to decode by heritage Spanish speakers. In fact, previous studies found that heritage speakers, such as monolingual Spanish speakers, neutralize these phonemes (Amengual, 2016). The purpose of this study is to determine if variable neutralization in production is caused by difficulty in the perception of the contrast in heritage speakers. To test this hypothesis, a perception study was constructed to compare the discrimination of taps and trills in intervocalic position. Monolingual Spanish speakers and heritage speakers participated in performing a word categorization task where they choose the word they heard from minimal pairs containing the tap and trill shown on the screen. The results of this study showed that heritage speakers can distinguish the sounds but are not on par to the monolingual Spanish participants. Education was a significant factor in being able to distinguish the tap and trill. The errors by all participants showed there is bidirectionality in confusing the trill with the tap and the tap with the trill. The results of this study can shed light onto the dynamics of language variation in contact situations and the nature of bilinguals’ phonological systems.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Rodriguez, Lesley Vanessa, "The Perception of Tap and Trill in Spanish-English Bilinguals" (2022). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI29211723.