Asymmetric mapping from phonetic to lexical representations in second-language listening

Cutler, A., Weber, A., & Otake, T. (2006). Asymmetric mapping from phonetic to lexical representations in second-language listening. Journal of Phonetics, 34(2), 269-284. doi:10.1016/j.wocn.2005.06.002.
The mapping of phonetic information to lexical representations in second-language (L2) listening was examined using an eyetracking paradigm. Japanese listeners followed instructions in English to click on pictures in a display. When instructed to click on a picture of a rocket, they experienced interference when a picture of a locker was present, that is, they tended to look at the locker instead. However, when instructed to click on the locker, they were unlikely to look at the rocket. This asymmetry is consistent with a similar asymmetry previously observed in Dutch listeners’ mapping of English vowel contrasts to lexical representations. The results suggest that L2 listeners may maintain a distinction between two phonetic categories of the L2 in their lexical representations, even though their phonetic processing is incapable of delivering the perceptual discrimination required for correct mapping to the lexical distinction. At the phonetic processing level, one of the L2 categories is dominant; the present results suggest that dominance is determined by acoustic–phonetic proximity to the nearest L1 category. At the lexical processing level, representations containing this dominant category are more likely than representations containing the non-dominant category to be correctly contacted by the phonetic input.
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