The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 11/19 - Keiichi Tajima

Speaker: Keiichi Tajima (Professor, Dept. of Psychology, Hosei University / Visiting Researcher, Speech Communication Group, Research Laboratories of Electronics, MIT)
Title: Perception of prosody in a non-native language: The case of Japanese listeners’ perception of English syllable structure.
Date/Time: Monday, Nov 19, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

Learners of a second language (L2) are known to have difficulty in the production and perception of not just phonetic contrasts that are not found in their native language (L1), but also prosodic properties that diverge from their L1, such as syllable structure, rhythm, and intonation. In the present study, I report results from a series of studies that investigated the extent to which native Japanese listeners have difficulty perceiving syllables in spoken English, given the fact that English generally has more complex syllable structures than Japanese. Results show that Japanese listeners indeed have great difficulty accurately counting syllables in spoken English words. Perceptual identification training, however, significantly improves their performance. The non-native listeners’ difficulty was strongly related to phonological factors such as the syllable complexity of the English words, but it was not related to phonetic factors such as the speaking rate of the words, nor to lexical factors such as the presence or absence of loanwords in Japanese that are etymologically / semantically related to yet phonologically distinct (with divergent syllable structures) from the source words, e.g., English source word “stress” and its corresponding Japanese loanword “sutoresu”.