15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003

Word Recognition and Sound Merger: The Case of the Front-Centering Diphthongs in NZ English

Paul Warren (1), Megan Rae (1), Jen Hay (2)

(1) Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
(2) University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Sociolinguistic and phonetic studies of New Zealand English have indicated an ongoing merger of NEAR and SQUARE vowels on the closer form. This paper explores the consequences of this change for spoken word recognition, using an auditory lexical decision experiment with semantic priming. Subjects were young NZE speakers, a group who predominantly merge the vowels in their own speech. These subjects responded to NEAR forms as though they were homophones giving access to the meanings of both NEAR and SQUARE words. Their responses to SQUARE forms, still encountered amongst more conservative speakers, appear to reflect access only to SQUARE meanings. This asymmetry in the pattern of lexical decision responses is compatible with the change-in-progress towards the NEAR vowel, and provides psycholinguistic support for earlier studies of the merger.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Warren, Paul / Rae, Megan / Hay, Jen (2003): "Word recognition and sound merger: the case of the front-centering diphthongs in NZ English", In ICPhS-15, 2989-2992.