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

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


How do Native Speakers of Japanese Discriminate and Categorize French /r/ and /l/?

Hidéko Yamasaki (1), Pierre-André Hallé (2)

(1) Institut de Linguistique et Phonétique Générales et Appliquées, Paris III, France
(2) Laboratoire de Psychologie Expérimentale, Paris V, France

Japanese listeners have difficulty in perceiving the English /r/-/l/ contrast. Is the difficulty due to the absence of a parallel phonemic contrast in Japanese? In this paper, we examined whether Japanese also encounter difficulties in processing the French /r/-/l/ contrast. Japanese listeners with a limited exposure to French encountered little qualitative difficulty, compared to French, in discriminating French /r/-/l/ in natural stimuli. In an open-response identification test, Japanese consistently interpreted the French /l/s but not /r/s as a Japanese /r/, applying various transcriptions to French /r/s. This pattern was clearest for Japanese with no exposure at all to French. The identification data were consistent overall with the discrimination data: those items that were difficult to discriminate often received identical transcriptions. The results suggest that perception of non-native contrasts is partly determined by the detailed phonetic properties of the sounds involved, not solely by the specific structure of the native phonological system.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Yamasaki, Hidéko / Hallé, Pierre-André (1999): "How do native speakers of Japanese discriminate and categorize French /r/ and /l/?", In ICPhS-14, 909-912.