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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 16, 2016

Native and non-native listeners’ sensitivity to English onset restrictions and universal onset markedness

  • Shinsook Lee EMAIL logo


Language-specific phonotactic restrictions modulate the perception of L1 and L2 sound structures. However, sonority-driven onset markedness is also known to affect listeners’ perception of onset clusters; onsets of large sonority distances elicit more accurate perception than those of small sonority distances (e.g., bl versus bd versus lb, Berent et al. 2007). Although English admits only onset sequences of a large sonority rise, certain prohibited onset clusters can emerge due to word-initial schwa deletion (e.g., banana [bnǽnə], potato [ptéɪɾoʊ]). The study investigated whether native and non-native listeners were perceptually sensitive to the sonority-based onset markedness as well as to legal versus illegal English onset clusters resulting from word-initial schwa deletion. Native English, Korean, and Japanese listeners completed identity judgment tests with auditory nonce words. The nonce words contained ill-formed as well as well-formed onsets resulting from initial schwa deletion and ill-formed onsets were further divided into onsets of a sonority rise, flat, and fall. The results of accuracy tests indicated that all the listener groups differentiated between well-formed and ill-formed English onset clusters and response latency showed a similar trend. The results also revealed that the listeners showed an illusionary vowel effect as a function of the onset markedness irrespective of their L1s.

Department of English Language Education, Korea University, 145, Anam-ro, Seongbuk-Gu, Seoul 02841, Republic of Korea


An earlier short version of the paper appeared in Proceedings of the International Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech 2015 (pp. 182-195). I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Nonce words which conform to English phonotactic constraints on onset clustersNonce words which violate English phonotactic constraints on onset clusters
Disyllabic wordsTrisyllabic wordsDisyllabic wordsTrisyllabic words
Published Online: 2016-11-16
Published in Print: 2016-11-1

© Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland

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