Speech segmentation by native and non-native speakers: the use of lexical, syntactic, and stress-pattern cues.
Varying degrees of plasticity in different subsystems of language have been demonstrated by studies showing that some aspects of language are processed similarly by native speakers and late-learners whereas other aspects are processed differently by the two groups. The study of speech segmentation provides a means by which the ability to process different types of linguistic information can be measured within the same task, because lexical, syntactic, and stress-pattern information can all indicate where one word ends and the next begins in continuous speech. In this study, native Japanese and native Spanish late-learners of English (as well as near-monolingual Japanese and Spanish speakers) were asked to determine whether specific sounds fell at the beginning or in the middle of words in English sentences. Similar to native English speakers, late-learners employed lexical information to perform the segmentation task. However, nonnative speakers did not use syntactic information to the same extent as native English speakers. Although both groups of late-learners of English used stress pattern as a segmentation cue, the extent to which this cue was relied upon depended on the stress-pattern characteristics of their native language. These findings support the hypothesis that learning a second language later in life has differential effects on subsystems within language.
Sanders, LD; Neville, HJ; Woldorff, MG
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