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The direct and indirect effects of the phonotactic constraints in the listener's native language on the comprehension of reduced and unreduced word pronunciation variants in a foreign language

Ernestus, M., Kouwenhoven, H., & Van Mulken, M. (2017). The direct and indirect effects of the phonotactic constraints in the listener's native language on the comprehension of reduced and unreduced word pronunciation variants in a foreign language. Journal of Phonetics, 62, 50-64. doi:10.1016/j.wocn.2017.02.003.
This study investigates how the comprehension of casual speech in foreign languages is affected by the phonotactic constraints in the listener’s native language. Non-native listeners of English with different native languages heard short English phrases produced by native speakers of English or Spanish and they indicated whether these phrases included can or can’t. Native Mandarin listeners especially tended to interpret can’t as can. We interpret this result as a direct effect of the ban on word-final /nt/ in Mandarin. Both the native Mandarin and the native Spanish listeners did not take full advantage of the subsegmental information in the speech signal cueing reduced can’t. This finding is probably an indirect effect of the phonotactic constraints in their native languages: these listeners have difficulties interpreting the subsegmental cues because these cues do not occur or have different functions in their native languages. Dutch resembles English in the phonotactic constraints relevant to the comprehension of can’t, and native Dutch listeners showed similar patterns in their comprehension of native and non-native English to native English listeners. This result supports our conclusion that the major patterns in the comprehension results are driven by the phonotactic constraints in the listeners’ native languages.
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