The effects of L1 phonotactics on Cantonese-English bilinguals’ identification of L2 sounds

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    Acquiring a native language (L1) involves developing knowledge of the phonotactic patterns in one's L1 and thus a sensitivity to their distributional probabilities (Jusczyk el al. 1994, Maye et al. 2002, Idemaru & Holt 2011). The tacit knowledge of L1 phonotactics has been shown to influence the perception of sounds in a second language (L2) (Halle & Best 2007, Davison & Wilson 2016), e.g., native Japanese listeners may perceive illusory vowels between two adjacent consonants whose combination violates the phonotactic rules in Japanese (Dupoux etal. 1999).

    This study examines the potential influence of LI phonotactics on the identification of sounds in a second language (L2), focusing on listeners whose L1 is Hong Kong Cantonese and whose L2 is English. Hong Kong Cantonese and English both have the vowels [i] and [I] with comparable phonetic qualities and duration patterns, but different distributional properties: in Cantonese, the combinations of [-ip], [-it], and [-Ik] are legal but those of [-Ip], [-It], and [-ik] are not; in English, in contrast, all are legal. In Mandarin, in addition, none are legal as it does not allow any obstruent codas.

    Cantonese and Mandarin L2 listeners of English completed a vowel-identification task. The audio stimuli were English words in the form of CVC syllables that end with a coda [-p],[-t],or [-k]. The listeners judged whether the stimulus words contained the vowel [i] or [I]. In the stimulus words, the durations of the vowels were neutralized to introduce a higher chance for observing the potential influence of vowel-coda combinations. In Cantonese listeners5 judgement, a difference was observed when the stimuli contained a Cantonese-legal sequence (e.g., [-ip], [-it], or [-Ik]) vs. a Cantonese- illegal sequence (e g., [-Ip], [-It], or [-ik]), which indicates the interference from LI phonotactics on their identification of the vowels. In contrast, the vowel-coda combinations did not influence Mandarin listeners’ responses. This study therefore suggests that LI phonotactics can influence the identification of L2 sounds.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
    EventThe 25th International Conference on Yue Dialect = 第二十五屆國際粵方言研討會 - Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
    Duration: 18 Dec 202119 Dec 2021 (Conference website) (Abstract Book)


    ConferenceThe 25th International Conference on Yue Dialect = 第二十五屆國際粵方言研討會
    Country/TerritoryHong Kong
    Internet address


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