Cross-language perception of Japanese vowel length contrasts: Comparison of listeners from different first language backgrounds

Kimiko Tsukada*, Yukari Hirata, Rungpat Roengpitya

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this research was to compare the perception of Japanese vowel length contrasts by 4 groups of listeners who differed in their familiarity with length contrasts in their first language (L1; i.e., American English, Italian, Japanese, and Thai). Of the 3 nonnative groups, native Thai listeners were expected to outperform American English and Italian listeners, because vowel length is contrastive in their L1. Native Italian listeners were expected to demonstrate a higher level of accuracy for length contrasts than American English listeners, because the former are familiar with consonant (but not vowel) length contrasts (i.e., singleton vs. geminate) in their L1. Method: A 2-alternative forced-choice AXB discrimination test that included 125 trials was administered to all the participants, and the listeners' discrimination accuracy (d′) was reported. Results: As expected, Japanese listeners were more accurate than all 3 nonnative groups in their discrimination of Japanese vowel length contrasts. The 3 nonnative groups did not differ from one another in their discrimination accuracy despite varying experience with length contrasts in their L1. Only Thai listeners were more accurate in their length discrimination when the target vowel was long than when it was short. Conclusion: Being familiar with vowel length contrasts in L1 may affect the listeners' cross-language perception, but it does not guarantee that their L1 experience automatically results in efficient processing of length contrasts in unfamiliar languages. The extent of success may be related to how length contrasts are phonetically implemented in listeners' L1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)805-814
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • (Un)familiar contrasts
  • Cross-language speech perception
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Thai
  • Vowel length contrasts


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