Effects of phoneme repertoire on phoneme decision

In three experiments, listeners detected vowel or consonant targets in lists of CV syllables constructed from five vowels and five consonants. Responses were faster in a predictable context (e.g., listening for a vowel target in a list of syllables all beginning with the same consonant) than in an unpredictable context (e.g., listening for a vowel target in a list of syllables beginning with different consonants). In Experiment 1, the listeners’ native language was Dutch, in which vowel and consonant repertoires are similar in size. The difference between predictable and unpredictable contexts was comparable for vowel and consonant targets. In Experiments 2 and 3, the listeners’ native language was Spanish, which has four times as many consonants as vowels; here effects of an unpredictable consonant context on vowel detection were significantly greater than effects of an unpredictable vowel context on consonant detection. This finding suggests that listeners’ processing of phonemes takes into account the constitution of their language’s phonemic repertoire and the implications that this has for contextual variability.
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