Perceiving Nonnative Vowels: The Effect of Context on Perception as Evidenced by Event-Related Brain Potentials

Frenck-Mestre, Cheryl; Meunier, Christine; Espesser, Robert; Daffner, Kirk; Holcomb, Phillip
December 2005
Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research;Dec2005, Vol. 48 Issue 6, p1496
Academic Journal
In 2 experiments, the authors examined the electrophysiological auditory responses of monolingual French listeners to American English vowel contrasts as a function of the surrounding vowel context. The context was determined on the basis of behavioral results (C.Meunier, C. Frenck-Mestre, T. Lelekov-Boissard,&M. Le Besnaris, 2003, 2004). In the 1st experiment, where the vowel /I/ was placed in a context in which it could easily be discriminated from the surrounding vowels (82% /i/ and 3% /ae/), the electrophysiological response to this vowel showed both acoustic and phonemic responses in line with behavioral results. In the 2nd experiment, where the same vowel /I/ was placed in a difficult context (82% /ε/ and 3% /ae/), the electrophysiological response of French participants to this vowel revealed a greatly reduced phonemic response, showing assimilation of the vowel to the surrounding context, again in line with behavioral results. The results of a 3rd control experiment with American participants showed both an acoustic and a phonemic response to the vowel /I/ in the difficult context (82% /ε/ and 3% /ae/). This pattern demonstrates the fluctuations in perception as a function of context, and hints at a supple system that may be modified through experience.


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