Acoustic and perceptual similarity of North German and American English vowels

Winifred Strange, Ocke Schwen Bohn, Sonja A. Trent, Kanae Nishi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Current theories of cross-language speech perception claim that patterns of perceptual assimilation of non-native segments to native categories predict relative difficulties in learning to perceive (and produce) non-native phones. Cross-language spectral similarity of North German (NG) and American English (AE) vowels produced in isolated hVC(a) (di)syllables (study 1) and in hVC syllables embedded in a short sentence (study 2) was determined by discriminant analyses, to examine the extent to which acoustic similarity was predictive of perceptual similarity patterns. The perceptual assimilation of NG vowels to native AE vowel categories by AE listeners with no German language experience was then assessed directly. Both studies showed that acoustic similarity of AE and NG vowels did not always predict perceptual similarity, especially for "new" NG front rounded vowels and for "similar" NG front and back mid and mid-low vowels. Both acoustic and perceptual similarity of NG and AE vowels varied as a function of the prosodic context, although vowel duration differences did not affect perceptual assimilation patterns. When duration and spectral similarity were in conflict, AE listeners assimilated vowels on the basis of spectral similarity in both prosodic contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1791-1807
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics

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