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Categorical perception of English /r/ and /l/ by Japanese bilinguals

  • Kristine S. MacKain (a1), Catherine T. Best (a2) and Winifred Strange (a3)

Categorical perception of a synthetic /r/-/l/ continuum was investigated with Japanese bilinguals at two levels of English language experience. The inexperienced Japanese group, referred to as Not-experienced, had had little or no previous training in English conversation. The Experienced Japanese group had had intensive training in English conversation by native American-English speakers. The tasks used were absolute identification, AXB discrimination, and oddity discrimination. Results showed classic Categorical perception by an American-English control group. The Not-experienced Japanese showed near-chance performance on all tasks, with performance no better for stimuli that straddled the /r/-/l/ boundary than for stimuli that fell in either category. The Experienced Japanese group, however, perceived /r/ and /l/ categorically. Their identification performance did not differ from the American-English controls, but their overall performance levels on the discrimination tests were somewhat lower than for the Americans. We conclude that native Japanese adults learning English as a second language are capable of Categorical perception of /r/ and /l/. Implications for perceptual training of phonemic contrasts are discussed.

Corresponding author
Dr. Kristine S. MacKain, Department of Psychiatry, Cornell University Medical College, 525 East 68th Street, New York, New York 10021.
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Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
  • URL: /core/journals/applied-psycholinguistics
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