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Linguistic influences in adult perception of non-native vowel contrasts.


The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

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      Perception of natural productions of two German vowels contrasts, /y/ vs /u/ and /Y/ vs /U/, was examined in monolingual English-speaking adults. Subjects were tested on multiple exemplars of the contrasting vowels produced in a dVt syllable by a native German speaker. Discrimination accuracy in an AXB discrimination task was well above chance for both contrasts. Most of the English adults failed to attain "nativelike" discrimination accuracy for the lax vowel pair /U/ vs /Y/, whereas all subjects showed nativelike performance in discriminating the tense vowel pair /u/ vs /y/. Results of a keyword identification and rating task provided evidence that English listeners' mapping of the German vowel to English vowel categories can be characterized as a category goodness difference assimilation, and that the difference in category goodness was more pronounced for the tense vowel pair than for the lax vowel pair. The results failed to support the hypothesis that the acoustic structure of vowels consistently favors auditory coding. Overall, the findings are compatible with existing data on discrimination of cross-language consonant contrasts in natural speech and suggest that linguistic experience shapes the discrimination of vowels and consonants as phonetic segmental units in similar ways.

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      [1 ] School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
      J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
      The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
      Feb 1995
      : 97
      : 2


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