Sensitivity to phonological universals: the case of stops and fricatives

Katalin Tamási, Iris Berent*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Linguistic evidence suggests that syllables like bdam (with stop–stop clusters) are less preferred than bzam (with stop–fricative combinations). Here, we demonstrate that English speakers manifest similar preferences despite no direct experience with either structure. Experiment 1 elicited syllable count for auditory materials (e.g., does bzam have one syllable or two?); Experiment 2 examined the AX discrimination of auditory stimuli (e.g., is bzam $$=$$= bezam?); whereas Experiment 3 repeated this task using printed materials. Results showed that syllables that are dispreferred across languages (e.g., bdam) were prone to misidentification relative to preferred syllables (e.g., bzam). The emergence of this pattern irrespective of stimulus modality—for auditory and printed materials—suggests that misidentification does not solely stem from a phonetic failure. Further, the effect remained significant after controlling for various statistical properties of the materials. These results suggest that speakers possess broad linguistic preferences that extend to syllables they have never encountered before.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-381
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • phonological-universals
  • phonology
  • reading
  • sonority
  • optimality-theory


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