Differential use of temporal cues to the /s/-/z/ contrast by native and non-native speakers of English

J Acoust Soc Am. 1986 Feb;79(2):508-17. doi: 10.1121/1.393538.


This study examined the effect of linguistic experience on perception of the English /s/-/z/ contrast in word-final position. The durations of the periodic ("vowel") and aperiodic ("fricative") portions of stimuli, ranging from peas to peace, were varied in a 5 X 5 factorial design. Forced-choice identification judgments were elicited from two groups of native speakers of American English differing in dialect, and from two groups each of native speakers of French, Swedish, and Finnish differing in English-language experience. The results suggested that the non-native subjects used cues established for the perception of phonetic contrasts in their native language to identify fricatives as /s/ or /z/. Lengthening vowel duration increased /z/ judgments in all eight subject groups, although the effect was smaller for native speakers of French than for native speakers of the other languages. Shortening fricative duration, on the other hand, significantly decreased /z/ judgments only by the English and French subjects. It did not influence voicing judgments by the Swedish and Finnish subjects, even those who had lived for a year or more in an English-speaking environment. These findings raise the question of whether adults who learn a foreign language can acquire the ability to integrate multiple acoustic cues to a phonetic contrast which does not exist in their native language.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cues*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Phonetics*
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Speech Perception*
  • Speech Production Measurement
  • Time Perception*