14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-14)

San Francisco, CA, USA
August 1-7, 1999


The Perception of American English Approximants by French Native Speakers

Pierre-André Hallé (1), Catherine T. Best (2,4), Andrea Levitt (3,4)

(1) Laboratoire de Psychologie Expérimentale, Paris, France
(2) Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, USA
(3) Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, USA
(4) Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, CT, USA

Speakers of Japanese (and other Asian languages) have trouble perceiving the American English (AE) /r/-/l/ "liquid" contrast. The difficulties they encounter are often explained by the specific structural contrasts of their native phonological systems, which do not include a phonemic distinction paralleling AE /r/- /l/. Accordingly, speakers of languages such as French which do possess that phonemic distinction should encounter little difficulty in perceiving the AE /r/-/l/ contrast. However, from an articulatory-phonetic standpoint, French and AE /r/s have little in common, suggesting that French listeners may have difficulty categorizing AE /r/s. The present study examined identification and discrimination of the AE continua /r-l/, /w-r/, and /w-j/ by French participants. French listeners did encounter difficulties with AE /r/, which they tended to hear as /w/-like. We propose that the detailed articulatory-phonetic properties of the sounds involved, not solely their abstract phonological status, account for the observed perceptual patterns.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Hallé, Pierre-André / Best, Catherine T. / Levitt, Andrea (1999): "The perception of American English approximants by French native speakers", In ICPhS-14, 905-908.