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      Perceptual distinctiveness between dental and palatal sibilants in different vowel contexts and its implications for phonological contrasts

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          Abstract

          Mandarin Chinese has dental, palatal, and retroflex sibilants, but their contrasts before [_i] are avoided: The palatals appear before [i] while the dentals and retroflexes appear before homorganic syllabic approximants (a.k.a. apical vowels). An enhancement view regards the apical vowels as a way to avoid the weak contrast /si-ɕi-ȿi/. We focus on the dental vs. palatal contrast in this study and test the enhancement-based hypothesis that the dental and palatal sibilants are perceptually less distinct in the [_i] context than in other vowel contexts. This hypothesis is supported by a typological survey of 155 Chinese dialects, which showed that contrastive [si, tsi, tsʰi] and [ɕi, tɕi, tɕʰi] tend to be avoided even when there are no retroflexes in the sound system. We also conducted a speeded-AX discrimination experiment with 20 English listeners and 10 Chinese listeners to examine the effect of vowels ([_i], [_a], [_ou]) on the perceived distinctiveness of sibilant contrasts ([s-ɕ], [ts-tɕ], [tsʰ-tɕʰ]). The results showed that the [_i] context introduced a longer response time, thus reduced distinctiveness, than other vowels, confirming our hypothesis. Moreover, the general lack of difference between the two groups of listeners indicates that the vowel effect is language-independent.

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          Fitting Linear Mixed-Effects Models Using lme4

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            Cross-language evidence for three factors in speech perception

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              Discrimination of non-native consonant contrasts varying in perceptual assimilation to the listener's native phonological system.

              Classic non-native speech perception findings suggested that adults have difficulty discriminating segmental distinctions that are not employed contrastively in their own language. However, recent reports indicate a gradient of performance across non-native contrasts, ranging from near-chance to near-ceiling. Current theoretical models argue that such variations reflect systematic effects of experience with phonetic properties of native speech. The present research addressed predictions from Best's perceptual assimilation model (PAM), which incorporates both contrastive phonological and noncontrastive phonetic influences from the native language in its predictions about discrimination levels for diverse types of non-native contrasts. We evaluated the PAM hypotheses that discrimination of a non-native contrast should be near-ceiling if perceived as phonologically equivalent to a native contrast, lower though still quite good if perceived as a phonetic distinction between good versus poor exemplars of a single native consonant, and much lower if both non-native segments are phonetically equivalent in goodness of fit to a single native consonant. Two experiments assessed native English speakers' perception of Zulu and Tigrinya contrasts expected to fit those criteria. Findings supported the PAM predictions, and provided evidence for some perceptual differentiation of phonological, phonetic, and nonlinguistic information in perception of non-native speech. Theoretical implications for non-native speech perception are discussed, and suggestions are made for further research.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                1868-6354
                Laboratory Phonology: Journal of the Association for Laboratory Phonology
                Ubiquity Press
                1868-6354
                18 July 2017
                : 8
                : 1
                Affiliations
                Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas, 1541 Lilac Lane, Lawrence, US
                Article
                10.5334/labphon.27
                Copyright: © 2017 The Author(s)

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

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