Mora or syllable? Speech segmentation in Japanese

Otake, T., Hatano, G., Cutler, A., & Mehler, J. (1993). Mora or syllable? Speech segmentation in Japanese. Journal of Memory and Language, 32, 258-278. doi:10.1006/jmla.1993.1014.
Four experiments examined segmentation of spoken Japanese words by native and non-native listeners. Previous studies suggested that language rhythm determines the segmentation unit most natural to native listeners: French has syllabic rhythm, and French listeners use the syllable in segmentation, while English has stress rhythm, and segmentation by English listeners is based on stress. The rhythm of Japanese is based on a subsyllabic unit, the mora. In the present experiments Japanese listeners′ response patterns were consistent with moraic segmentation; acoustic artifacts could not have determined the results since nonnative (English and French) listeners showed different response patterns with the same materials. Predictions of a syllabic hypothesis were disconfirmed in the Japanese listeners′ results; in contrast, French listeners showed a pattern of responses consistent with the syllabic hypothesis. The results provide further evidence that listeners′ segmentation of spoken words relies on procedures determined by the characteristic phonology of their native language.
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