Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 17, 2000

The Identification of English Consonants by Native Speakers of Italian

Ian R.A. MacKay, Diane Meador and James Emil Flege
From the journal Phonetica


This study examined the identification of English consonants in noise by native speakers of Italian. The effect of age of first exposure to English was evaluated by comparing three groups of subjects who continued to use Italian relatively often but differed according to their age of arrival (AOA) in Canada from Italy (early: 7, mid: 14, late: 19 years). The subjects in the late group made more errors identifying word-initial consonants than subjects in the early group did; however, the effect of AOA was nonsignificant for word-final stops. The effect of amount of native language (L1) use was evaluated by comparing two groups of early bilinguals who were matched for AOA (mean = 7 years) but differed according to self-reported percentage use of Italian (early: 32%, early-low: 8%). The early bilinguals who used Italian often (early) made significantly more errors identifying word-initial and word-final consonants than native English (NE) subjects did, whereas the early bilinguals who used Italian seldom (early-low) did not differ from the NE subjects. The subjects’ phonological short-term memory was estimated by having them repeat Italian non-words. This was done in an attempt to identify the source of individual differences. The nonword repetition scores were in fact found to independently account for 15% of the variance in subjects’ errors identifying word-final English consonants and 8% of the variance for word-initial consonants.


1 Agard, F.; DiPietro, R.: The sounds of English and Italian (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1964). Search in Google Scholar

2 Alinei, M.: Dizionario inverso italiano (Mouton, The Hague 1962). Search in Google Scholar

3 Bell, A.; Hooper, J.: Issues and evidence in syllabic phonology; in Bell, Hooper, Segments and syllables (North-Holland, New York 1978). Search in Google Scholar

4 Bell, T.; Dirks, D.; Carterette, E.: Interactive factors in consonant confusion patterns. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 85: 339–346 (1989). Search in Google Scholar

5 Best, C.; Strange, W.: Effects of phonological and phonetic factors on cross-language perception of approximants. J. Phonet. 20: 305–330 (1992). Search in Google Scholar

6 Bilger, R.; Wang, M.: Consonant confusions in patients with sensorineural hearing loss. J. Speech Hear. Res. 19: 718–748 (1976). Search in Google Scholar

7 Bon, W. van; Pijl, J. van der: Effects of word length and word likeness on pseudoword repetition by poor and normal readers. Appl. Psycholing. 18: 101–114 (1997). Search in Google Scholar

8 Bradlow, A.; Pisoni, D.; Akahane-Yamada, R.; Tohkura, Y.: Training Japanese listeners to identify English /r/ and /l/. IV. Some effects of perceptual learning on speech production. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 101: 2299–2310 (1997). Search in Google Scholar

9 Calderón, J.; Best, C.: Effects of bilinguism on non-native phonetic contrasts. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 99: 2602(A) (1996). Search in Google Scholar

10 Carlson, R.; Elenius, K.; Granström, B.; Hunnicutt, S.: Phonetic and orthographic properties of the basic vocabulary of five European languages. Q. Prog. Status Rep., Speech Transm. Lab., R. Inst. Technol., Stockh., No. 1, pp. 63–94 (1985). Search in Google Scholar

11 Carroll, J.: Twenty-five years of research on foreign language aptitude; in Diller, Individual differences and universals in language learning aptitude (Newbury House, Rowley 1981). Search in Google Scholar

12 Costa, A.; Cutler, A.; Sebastián-Gallés, N.: Effects of phoneme repertoire on phoneme decision. Perception Psychophysics 60: 1022–1031 (1998). Search in Google Scholar

13 Cutler, A.; Mehler, J.; Norris, D.; Segui, J.: A language-specific comprehension strategy. Nature 304: 159–160 (1983). Search in Google Scholar

14 Dubno, J.; Levitt, H.: Predicting consonant confusions from acoustic analysis. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 69: 249–261 (1981). Search in Google Scholar

15 Dufva, M.; Voeten, M.: Native language literacy and phonological memory as prerequisites for learning English as a foreign language. Appl. Psycholing. 20: 329–348 (1999). Search in Google Scholar

16 Flege, J.: Second language speech learning: theory, findings, and problems; in Strange, Speech perception and linguistic experience, pp. 233–277 (York Press, Timonium 1995). Search in Google Scholar

17 Flege, J.: The role of subject and phonetic variables in L2 speech acquisition; in Gruber, Higgins, Olsen, Wysocki, Papers from the 34th Annu. Meet. Chicago Ling. Soc., vol. 2, The panels, pp. 213–232 (Chicago Linguistic Society, Chicago 1998). Search in Google Scholar

18 Flege, J.; Bohn, O.-S.; Jang, S.: The effect of experience on nonnative subjects’ production and perception of English vowels. J. Phonet. 25: 437–470 (1997a). Search in Google Scholar

19 Flege, J.; Frieda, E.; Nozawa, T.: Amount of native-language (L1) use affects pronunciation of an L2. J. Phonet. 25: 169–186 (1997b). Search in Google Scholar

20 Flege, J.; Liu, S.: The effect of experience on adults’ acquisition of a second language. Stud. Sec. Lang. Acquis. 2000 (to appear). Search in Google Scholar

21 Flege, J.; MacKay, I.; Meador, D.: Native Italian speakers’ production and perception of English vowels. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 106: 2973–2987 (1999a). Search in Google Scholar

22 Flege, J.; Munro, M.; MacKay, I.: Effects of age of second-language learning on the production of English consonants. Speech Commun. 16: 1–26 (1995a). Search in Google Scholar

23 Flege, J.; Munro, M.; MacKay, I.: Factors affecting strength of perceived foreign accent in a second language. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 97: 3125–3134 (1995b). Search in Google Scholar

24 Flege, J.; Schmidt, A.; Wharton, G.: Age affects rate-dependent processing of stops in a second language. Phonetica 53: 143–161 (1996a). Search in Google Scholar

25 Flege, J.; Takagi, N.; Mann, V.: Japanese adults can learn to produce English /r/ and /l/ accurately. Lang. Speech 38:25–55 (1995c). Search in Google Scholar

26 Flege, J.; Takagi, N.; Mann, V.: Lexical familiarity and English-language experience affect Japanese adults’ perception of /r/ and /l/. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 99: 1161–1173 (1996b). Search in Google Scholar

27 Flege, J.; Yeni-Komshian, G.; Liu, S.: Age constraints on second language learning. J. Mem. Lang. 41: 78–104 (1999b). Search in Google Scholar

28 Flege, J.; Wang, C.: Native-language phonotactic constraints affect how well Chinese subjects perceive the word-final English /t/-/d/ contrast. J. Phonet. 17: 299–315 (1990). Search in Google Scholar

29 Gardner, R.: Social psychology and second language learning: the role of attitudes and motivation (Arnold, London 1985). Search in Google Scholar

30 Gathercole, S.; Baddeley, A.: Working memory and language (Erlbaum, Hillsdale 1993). Search in Google Scholar

31 Gelfand, S.; Piper, N.; Silman, S.: Consonant recognition in quiet as a function of aging among normal hearing subjects. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 78: 1198–1206 (1985). Search in Google Scholar

32 Goto, H.: Auditory perception by normal Japanese adults of the sounds ‘l’ and ‘r’. Neuropsychologia 9: 317–323 (1971). Search in Google Scholar

33 Gottfried, T.; Beddor, P.: Perception of temporal and spectral information in French vowels. Lang. Speech 31: 57–75 (1988). Search in Google Scholar

34 Greene, B.; Pisoni, D.; Gradman, H.: Perception of synthetic speech by nonnative speakers of English. Res. on Speech Perception, No. 11, pp. 419–428 (Department of Psychology, Indiana University, Bloomington 1985). Search in Google Scholar

35 Guion, S.; Flege, J.; Loftin, J.: The effect of L1 use on foreign accent ratings in Quichua-Spanish bilinguals. Proc. 14th Int. Congr. Phonet. Sci., San Francisco 1999. Search in Google Scholar

36 Helfer, K.: Binaural cues and consonant perception in reverberation and noise. J. Speech Hear. Res. 37: 429–438 (1994). Search in Google Scholar

37 Lively, S.; Logan, J.; Pisoni, D.: Training Japanese listeners to identify English /r/ and /l/. II. The role of phonetic environment and talker variability in learning new perceptual categories. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 94: 1242–1255 (1993). Search in Google Scholar

38 McAllister, R.: Perceptual foreign accent: L2 user’s comprehension ability; in Leather, James, Proc. 1990 Amsterdam Symp. on the Acquisition of Second-Lang. Speech (University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1990) Search in Google Scholar

39 .Marslen-Wilson, W.; Welsh, A.: Processing interactions during word-recognition in continuous speech. Cognitive Psychol. 10: 29–63 (1978). Search in Google Scholar

40 Mayo, L.; Florentine, M.; Buus, S.: Age of second-language acquisition and perception of speech in noise. J. Speech Hear. Res. 40: 686–693 (1997). Search in Google Scholar

41 Meador, D.; Flege, J.; MacKay, I.: Factors affecting the recognition of words in a second language. Bilingualism: Language Cognition (2000). Search in Google Scholar

42 Miller, G.; Nicely, P.: An analysis of perceptual confusions among some English consonants. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 27: 338–346 (1955). Search in Google Scholar

43 Munro, M.; Flege, J.; MacKay, I.: The effects of age of second language learning on the production of English vowels. Appl. Psycholing. 17: 313–334 (1996). Search in Google Scholar

44 Nabèleck, A.; Donahue, A.: Perception of consonants in reverberation by native and non-native listeners. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 75: 632–634 (1984). Search in Google Scholar

45 Pallier, C.; Bosch, L.; Sebastián-Gallés, N.: A limit on behavioral plasticity in speech perception. Cognition 64: B9–B17 (1997). Search in Google Scholar

46 Piske, T.; MacKay, I.: Age and L1 use effects on degree of foreign accent in English. Proc. 14th Int. Congr. Phonet. Sci., San Francisco 1999. Search in Google Scholar

47 Protopapas, A.: Perspectives on syllables, stress, and interactions in speech perception: experimental and connectionist approaches; PhD diss. Brown University, Providence (unpublished, 1996). Search in Google Scholar

48 Redford, M.; Diehl, R.: The relative perceptual distinctiveness of initial and final consonants in CVC syllables. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 106: 1555–1565 (1999). Search in Google Scholar

49 Schumann, J.: Research on the acculturation model for second language acquisition. J. multilingual multicultural Dev. 7: 379–392 (1986). Search in Google Scholar

50 Scovel, T.: A time to speak: a psycholinguistic inquiry into the critical period for human speech (Newbury House, Cambridge 1988). Search in Google Scholar

51 Sebastián-Gallés, N.; Soto-Faraco, S.: Online processing of native and non-native phonemic contrasts in early bilinguals. Cognition 7: 111–123 (1999). Search in Google Scholar

52 Sekiyama, K.; Tohkura, Y.: Inter-language differences in the influence of visual cues in speech perception. J. Phonet. 21: 427–444 (1993). Search in Google Scholar

53 Service, E.: Phonology, working memory, and foreign-language learning. Q.J. exp. Psychol. 45A: 21–50 (1992). Search in Google Scholar

54 Service, E.; Kohonen, V.: Is the relation between phonological memory and foreign language learning accounted for by vocabulary acquisition? Appl. Ling. 16: 155–172 (1995). Search in Google Scholar

55 Skehan, P.: Individual differences in second-language learning (Arnold, London 1989). Search in Google Scholar

56 Wang, M.; Bilger, R.: Consonant confusions in noise: a study of perceptual features. J. acoust. Soc. Am. 54: 1248–1266 (1973). Search in Google Scholar

57 Wang, M.; Reed, C.; Bilger, R.: A comparison of the effects of filtering and sensorineural hearing loss on patterns of consonant confusions. J. Speech Hear. Res. 21: 5–36 (1978). Search in Google Scholar

58 Yamada, R.: Age and acquisition of second language speech sounds: perception of American English /r/ and /l/ by native speakers of Japanese; in Strange, Speech perception and linguistic experience: issues in cross-language research, pp. 305–320 (York Press, Timonium 1995). Search in Google Scholar

59 Yamada, R.; Strange, W.; Magnuson, J.; Pruitt, J.; Clarke III, W.: The intelligibility of Japanese speakers’ productions of American English /r/, /l/ and /w/, as evaluated by native speakers of American English. Proc. Int. Conf. Spoken Lang. Processing, pp. 2023–2026 (Acoustical Society of Japan, Yokohama 1994). Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2000-11-17
Published in Print: 2001-06-01

© 2001 S. Karger AG, Basel