Perception of Allophonic Cues to English Word Boundaries by Polish Learners: Approximant Devoicing in English

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Abstract

The study investigates the perception of devoicing of English /w, r, j, l/ after /p, t, k/ as a word-boundary cue by Polish listeners. Polish does not devoice sonorants following voiceless stops in word-initial positions. As a result, Polish learners are not made sensitive to sonorant devoicing as a segmentation cue. Higher-proficiency and lower-proficiency Polish learners of English participated in the task in which they recognised phrases such as buy train vs. bite rain or pie plot vs. pipe lot. The analysis of accuracy scores revealed that successful segmentation was only above chance level, indicating that sonorant voicing/devoicing cue was largely unattended to in identifying the boundary location. Moreover, higher proficiency did not lead to more successful segmentation. The analysis of reaction times showed an unclear pattern in which higher-proficiency listeners segmented the test phrases faster but not more accurately than lower-proficiency listeners. Finally, #CS sequences were recognised more accurately than C#S sequences, which was taken to suggest that the listeners may have had some limited knowledge that devoiced sonorants appear only in word-initial positions, but they treated voiced sonorants as equal candidates for word-final and word-initial positions.

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