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J Acoust Soc Am. 2013 Apr;133(4):2397-411. doi: 10.1121/1.4792358.

Focusing the lens of language experience: perception of Ma'di stops by Greek and English bilinguals and monolinguals.

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The Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA.


Monolingual listeners are constrained by native language experience when categorizing and discriminating unfamiliar non-native contrasts. Are early bilinguals constrained in the same way by their two languages, or do they possess an advantage? Greek-English bilinguals in either Greek or English language mode were compared to monolinguals on categorization and discrimination of Ma'di stop-voicing distinctions that are non-native to both languages. As predicted, English monolinguals categorized Ma'di prevoiced plosive and implosive stops and the coronal voiceless stop as English voiced stops. The Greek monolinguals categorized the Ma'di short-lag voiceless stops as Greek voiceless stops, and the prevoiced implosive stops and the coronal prevoiced stop as Greek voiced stops. Ma'di prenasalized stops were uncategorized. Greek monolinguals discriminated the non-native voiced-voiceless contrasts very well, whereas the English monolinguals did poorly. Bilinguals were given all oral and written instructions either in English or in Greek (language mode manipulation). Each language mode subgroup categorized Ma'di stop-voicing comparably to the corresponding monolingual group. However, the bilinguals' discrimination was unaffected by language mode: both subgroups performed intermediate to the monolinguals for the prevoiced-voiceless contrast. Thus, bilinguals do not possess an advantage for unfamiliar non-native contrasts, but are nonetheless uniquely configured language users, differing from either monolingual group.

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