Non-native Japanese learners’ perception of consonant length in Japanese and Italian

Kimiko Tsukada, Felicity Cox, John Hajek, Yukari Hirata

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Learners of a foreign language (FL) typically have to learn to process sounds that do not exist in their first language (L1). As this is known to be difficult for adults, in particular, it is important for FL pedagogy to be informed by phonetic research. This study examined the role of FL learners’ previous linguistic experience in the processing of a contrast absent in the L1. The FLs under investigation are Japanese and Italian, which both use contrastive consonant length. Two groups of non-native Japanese (NNJ) learners – L1 Australian English (OZ) and L1 Korean – participated in the consonant length identification task. Neither OZ nor Korean has an underlying consonant length contrast, but Korean has non-contrastive lengthening of tense obstruents with corresponding shorter preceding vowels, which may be beneficial in perceiving consonant length in an FL. We have taken a novel, two-stage approach. First, we compared the perception of Japanese long/geminate and short/singleton consonants by the two groups of NNJ learners. Second, we investigated whether FL Japanese learning by the two groups transfers to the processing of consonant length in an unknown language, Italian. Native speakers of Japanese (NJ) and Italian (NI) were included as controls. They were familiar with contrastive consonant length in their L1, but were naïve to the other language. The NJ and NI groups accurately identified the consonant length category in their L1 but were slightly less accurate in the unknown language. The two NNJ groups were generally accurate (> 80%) in perceiving consonant length not only in Japanese, but also in Italian. However, the direction of NNJ learners’ misperception (i.e. singleton as geminate or geminate as singleton) varied, suggesting that some learners, according to their L1, may categorize length in Japanese and Italian differently rather than uniformly applying the concept of [±long].
LanguageEnglish
Pages179– 200
Number of pages22
JournalSecond Language Research
Volume34
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018

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foreign language
Group
language
Italian language
phonetics
linguistics
learning
experience

Keywords

  • cross-language speech perception
  • consonant length contrasts
  • Japanese
  • Italian
  • non-native Japanese learners
  • singleton/geminate

Cite this

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title = "Non-native Japanese learners’ perception of consonant length in Japanese and Italian",
abstract = "Learners of a foreign language (FL) typically have to learn to process sounds that do not exist in their first language (L1). As this is known to be difficult for adults, in particular, it is important for FL pedagogy to be informed by phonetic research. This study examined the role of FL learners’ previous linguistic experience in the processing of a contrast absent in the L1. The FLs under investigation are Japanese and Italian, which both use contrastive consonant length. Two groups of non-native Japanese (NNJ) learners – L1 Australian English (OZ) and L1 Korean – participated in the consonant length identification task. Neither OZ nor Korean has an underlying consonant length contrast, but Korean has non-contrastive lengthening of tense obstruents with corresponding shorter preceding vowels, which may be beneficial in perceiving consonant length in an FL. We have taken a novel, two-stage approach. First, we compared the perception of Japanese long/geminate and short/singleton consonants by the two groups of NNJ learners. Second, we investigated whether FL Japanese learning by the two groups transfers to the processing of consonant length in an unknown language, Italian. Native speakers of Japanese (NJ) and Italian (NI) were included as controls. They were familiar with contrastive consonant length in their L1, but were na{\"i}ve to the other language. The NJ and NI groups accurately identified the consonant length category in their L1 but were slightly less accurate in the unknown language. The two NNJ groups were generally accurate (> 80{\%}) in perceiving consonant length not only in Japanese, but also in Italian. However, the direction of NNJ learners’ misperception (i.e. singleton as geminate or geminate as singleton) varied, suggesting that some learners, according to their L1, may categorize length in Japanese and Italian differently rather than uniformly applying the concept of [±long].",
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Non-native Japanese learners’ perception of consonant length in Japanese and Italian. / Tsukada, Kimiko; Cox, Felicity; Hajek, John; Hirata, Yukari.

In: Second Language Research, Vol. 34, No. 2, 04.2018, p. 179– 200.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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AB - Learners of a foreign language (FL) typically have to learn to process sounds that do not exist in their first language (L1). As this is known to be difficult for adults, in particular, it is important for FL pedagogy to be informed by phonetic research. This study examined the role of FL learners’ previous linguistic experience in the processing of a contrast absent in the L1. The FLs under investigation are Japanese and Italian, which both use contrastive consonant length. Two groups of non-native Japanese (NNJ) learners – L1 Australian English (OZ) and L1 Korean – participated in the consonant length identification task. Neither OZ nor Korean has an underlying consonant length contrast, but Korean has non-contrastive lengthening of tense obstruents with corresponding shorter preceding vowels, which may be beneficial in perceiving consonant length in an FL. We have taken a novel, two-stage approach. First, we compared the perception of Japanese long/geminate and short/singleton consonants by the two groups of NNJ learners. Second, we investigated whether FL Japanese learning by the two groups transfers to the processing of consonant length in an unknown language, Italian. Native speakers of Japanese (NJ) and Italian (NI) were included as controls. They were familiar with contrastive consonant length in their L1, but were naïve to the other language. The NJ and NI groups accurately identified the consonant length category in their L1 but were slightly less accurate in the unknown language. The two NNJ groups were generally accurate (> 80%) in perceiving consonant length not only in Japanese, but also in Italian. However, the direction of NNJ learners’ misperception (i.e. singleton as geminate or geminate as singleton) varied, suggesting that some learners, according to their L1, may categorize length in Japanese and Italian differently rather than uniformly applying the concept of [±long].

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