Experience and the use of non-native duration in L2 vowel categorization

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This paper investigates the role of experience, understood as length of residence in an L2-speaking country, in non-native vowel categorization. More specifically, the study assesses the relative weighting of temporal and spectral cues to the English lax-tense vowel contrast by adult speakers of Catalan with varying experience in English. Whereas the English contrast is based on both vowel quality and duration differences, Catalan has no temporal contrasts. First, a perceptual assimilation task performed by L2 learners and non-learners assessed possible experience-based changes in the ability to distinguish L2 and L1 vowels. No positive effect of experience was found, although L2 learning seemed to affect L1 vowel identification. The relative weighting of crucial cues was then evaluated with an identification test involving a synthetic continuum from /i/ to /I/ to /e/. Results for /i/ and /I/ showed that learners made a greater use of duration than native English speakers, lending support to theories proposing the availability of duration even to learners whose L1 has no duration contrast. Importantly, this overreliance on duration occurred regardless of amount of L2 experience. Taken together, the results do not lend strong support to the effect of experience in L2 vowel categorization.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)372-387
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of phonetics
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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