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

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


Levels of Abstraction in Characterizing Cross-Language Phonetic Similarity

Winifred Strange

City University of New York - Graduate School New York, NY, USA

The concept of cross-language phonetic similarity has been invoked in predicting difficulties that adult second-language learners experience in mastering the production and perception of non-native phonetic segments and sequences. However, theorists differ in their characterization of phonetic similarity and in the levels of abstraction adopted to describe the structure and organization of native phonetic categories. In this paper, illustrative data from recent studies which compare the acoustic and perceptual similarity of (coarticulated) vowels of Kan to Japanese, North German, and American English are presented. Results demonstrate systematic contextual effects in cross-language perceptual similarity patterns which, in some cases, are not predictable from concomitant variations in acoustical similarity patterns. The argument is made for examining cross-language perceptual similarity directly, and for characterizing the organization of native phonetic categories at an intermediate level of abstraction which captures listeners' knowledge of systematic allophonic, phonotactic, and prosodic variation.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Strange, Winifred (1999): "Levels of abstraction in characterizing cross-language phonetic similarity", In ICPhS-14, 2513-2519.