Competition dynamics of second-language listening

Broersma, M., & Cutler, A. (2011). Competition dynamics of second-language listening. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 74-95. doi:10.1080/17470218.2010.499174.
Spoken-word recognition in a nonnative language is particularly difficult where it depends on discrimination between confusable phonemes. Four experiments here examine whether this difficulty is in part due to phantom competition from “near-words” in speech. Dutch listeners confuse English /aelig/ and /ε/, which could lead to the sequence daf being interpreted as deaf, or lemp being interpreted as lamp. In auditory lexical decision, Dutch listeners indeed accepted such near-words as real English words more often than English listeners did. In cross-modal priming, near-words extracted from word or phrase contexts (daf from DAFfodil, lemp from eviL EMPire) induced activation of corresponding real words (deaf; lamp) for Dutch, but again not for English, listeners. Finally, by the end of untruncated carrier words containing embedded words or near-words (definite; daffodil) no activation of the real embedded forms (deaf in definite) remained for English or Dutch listeners, but activation of embedded near-words (deaf in daffodil) did still remain, for Dutch listeners only. Misinterpretation of the initial vowel here favoured the phantom competitor and disfavoured the carrier (lexically represented as containing a different vowel). Thus, near-words compete for recognition and continue competing for longer than actually embedded words; nonnative listening indeed involves phantom competition.
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