Constraints of vowels and consonants on lexical selection: Cross-linguistic comparisons
Cutler, A., Sebastian-Galles, N., Soler-Vilageliu, O., & Van Ooijen, B.
Constraints of vowels and consonants on lexical selection: Cross-linguistic comparisons. Memory & Cognition, 28
Languages differ in the constitution of their phonemic repertoire and in the relative distinctiveness of phonemes within the repertoire. In the present study, we asked whether such differences constrain spoken-word recognition, via two word reconstruction experiments, in which listeners turned non-words into real words by changing single sounds. The experiments were carried out in Dutch (which has a relatively balanced vowel-consonant ratio and many similar vowels) and in Spanish (which has many more consonants than vowels and high distinctiveness among the vowels). Both Dutch and Spanish listeners responded significantly faster and more accurately when required to change vowels as opposed to consonants; when allowed to change any phoneme, they more often altered vowels than consonants. Vowel information thus appears to constrain lexical selection less tightly (allow more potential candidates) than does consonant information, independent of language-specific phoneme repertoire and of relative distinctiveness of vowels.