Perception of English /i/ and /I/ by Japanese and Spanish Listeners: Longitudinal Results

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Flege’s Speech Learning Model predicts that if an L2 learner perceives an L2 speech sound as similar to an L1 speech sound, the two sounds will be combined as a diaphone category, the properties of which will eventually be intermediate between the properties of the L1 and L2 sound. In contrast if the L2 sound is perceived as new, then a new category will be established with properties which may eventually match the properties of the L2 sound. Canadian English has two high front vowels: tense /i/ and lax /I/ differing in spectral and duration properties. Japanese has two high front vowels: long /i:/ and short /i/ differing in duration only. English /i/ and /I/ are expected to be perceived as similar to Japanese /i:/ and /i/, and Japanese learners of English are predicted to
establish diaphone categories. Their identification of English /i/ and /I/ is predicted to initially match their perception of Japanese /i:/ and /i/, but eventually be intermediate between the native norms for the L1 and L2 categories. Spanish has one high front
vowel. Spanish learners of English are predicted to perceive English /I/ as less similar
to Spanish /i/ than English /i/, and are predicted to eventually establish a new /i:/
category. Their identification of English /i/ and /I/ is predicted to initially be poor but
eventually match that of English listeners. These predictions were tested using a
multidimensional edited-speech continuum covering the English words /bIt bit bId bid/.
Properties which varied in the continuum included vowel spectral properties and vowel
duration. A longitudinal study was conducted testing Japanese and Spanish speaking learners of English one month and six months after their arrival in Canada. Japanese listeners were found to have a primarily duration-based categorical boundary between English /i/ and /I/ which did not change between the initial and final tests. Spanish listeners did not have a categorical identification pattern in the initial test, but they did establish duration-based or spectrally-based categorical boundaries by the time of the
final test. Results were therefore consistent with the theoretical predictions.
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