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Age of acquisition and proficiency in a second language independently influence the perception of non-native speech*


Sensorimotor processing in children and higher-cognitive processing in adults could determine how non-native phonemes are acquired. This study investigates how age-of-acquisition (AOA) and proficiency-level (PL) predict native-like perception of statistically dissociated L2 categories, i.e., within-category and between-category. In a similarity task, participants rated the level of similarity between pairs of English syllables from 1 (similar) to 4 (dissimilar). Early L2 acquisition predicts accurate within-categorization and high proficiency in late L2 acquisition predicts improved between-categorization. Our results suggest that the manner in which bilinguals learn to categorize non-native sounds depends on the cognitive processes available at the age of L2 exposure.

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*Address for correspondence: Pilar Archila, Department of Psychology, University of Houston, 126 Heyne Bldg., Houston, Texas 77204-5022, USA
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We would like to extend our gratitude to Lee Branum-Martin for his guidance with the analysis and to our research assistant Gabriela Ochoa for her help collecting data for this project. This research was supported by R21HD059103-01 Neural correlates of lexical processing in child L2 learners and by the Institute for Biomedical Imaging Science (IBIS) for Plasticity in Speech Perception in Early Bilingual Children.

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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
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