Cross-language categorization of French and German vowels by naïve American listeners

Strange, Winifred; Levy, Erika S.; Law II, Franzo

American English (AE) speakers’ perceptual assimilation of 14 North German (NG) and 9 Parisian French (PF) vowels was examined in two studies using citation-form disyllables (study 1) and sentences with vowels surrounded by labial and alveolar consonants in multisyllabic nonsense words (study 2). Listeners categorized multiple tokens of each NG and PF vowel as most similar to selected AE vowels and rated their category “goodness” on a nine-point Likert scale. Front, rounded vowels were assimilated primarily to back AE vowels, despite their acoustic similarity to front AE vowels. In study 1, they were considered poorer exemplars of AE vowels than were NG and PF back, rounded vowels; in study 2, front and back, rounded vowels were perceived as similar to each other. Assimilation of some front, unrounded and back, rounded NG and PF vowels varied with language, speaking style, and consonantal context. Differences in perceived similarity often could not be predicted from context-specific cross-language spectral similarities. Results suggest that listeners can access context-specific, phonetic details when listening to citation-form materials, but assimilate non-native vowels on the basis of context-independent phonological equivalence categories when processing continuous speech. Results are interpreted within the Automatic Selective Perception model of speech perception.


Also Published In

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

More About This Work

Academic Units
Communication Sciences and Disorders
Published Here
July 14, 2020


Keywords: cross-linguistic speech perception, French, German, vowels