Early learners' discrimination of second-language vowels

Academic Article


  • It is uncertain from previous research to what extent the perceptual system retains plasticity after attunement to the native language (L1) sound system. This study evaluated second-language (L2) vowel discrimination by individuals who began learning the L2 as children ("early learners"). Experiment 1 identified procedures that lowered discrimination scores for foreign vowel contrasts in an AXB test (with three physically different stimuli per trial, where "X" was drawn from the same vowel category as "A" or "B"). Experiment 2 examined the AXB discrimination of English vowels by native Spanish early learners and monolingual speakers of Spanish and English (20 per group) at interstimulus intervals (ISIs) of 1000 and 0 ms. The Spanish monolinguals obtained near-chance scores for three difficult vowel contrasts, presumably because they did not perceive the vowels as distinct phonemes and because the experimental design hindered low-level encoding strategies. Like the English monolinguals, the early learners obtained high scores, indicating they had shown considerable perceptual learning. However, statistically significant differences between early learners and English monolinguals for two of three difficult contrasts at the 0-ms ISI suggested that their underlying perceptual systems were not identical. Implications for claims regarding perceptual plasticity following L1 attunement are discussed. © 2006 Acoustical Society of America.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Højen A; Flege JE
  • Start Page

  • 3072
  • End Page

  • 3084
  • Volume

  • 119
  • Issue

  • 5