Orthographic forms affect speech perception in a second language: consonant and vowel length in L2 English

Bene Bassetti, Jackie Masterson, Tania Cerni, Paolo Mairano

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    ItalianL1 speakers of EnglishL2 produce the same English sound as longer if spelled with two than with one letter, following Italian grapheme-phoneme conversion rules. Do Italian listeners perceive short and long sounds in English homophonic word pairs that are spelled with a single letter or a digraph (finish-Finnish; morning-mourning)? In Experiment 1, 50 ItalianL1-EnglishL2 bilinguals and 50 English controls performed a Consonant Perception task and a Vowel Perception Task. They heard English homophonic word pairs containing a target sound spelled with one or two letters and indicated whether the two words contained the same sounds or not. For half of the listeners a picture was used to activate target words (Auditory-Visual Input group). Bilinguals in this group perceived different sounds in homophonic pairs. Experiment 2 tested whether naturalistic exposure reduces orthographic effects on speech perception by comparing learners, sequential bilinguals, and English controls (all n = 30) with Auditory-Visual Input. Orthographic form (spelling) affected consonant perception in both of the second language listener groups. Learners were less affected than bilinguals. Analyses indicated that this was because of the learners’ high proficiency. It appears that ItalianL1 speakers of EnglishL2 make a long-short contrast for consonants—unattested in English—and illusorily perceive it in spoken English homophonous words.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1583–1603
    JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    The authors are grateful to Alex Panicacci for contributing to data collection, to Becky Taylor for contributing to materials preparation, toSheila Verrier for recording spoken materials, to Juhani J?rvikivi forlending us a response box, to Paul Wakeling for evaluating our spokenmaterials. This work was supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Grant [Grant RPG 2013 180] awarded to Bene Bassetti and Paolo Mairano. Thesponsor had no involvement in the conduct of the research or thepreparation of the article. Preliminary findings were presented at the Soundto Word in Bilingual and Second Language Speech Perception conference,Iowa City, Iowa, in April 2016

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2021. American Psychological Association


    • Orthographic effects
    • Orthography
    • Phonology
    • Second language
    • Speech perception

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
    • Behavioral Neuroscience


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