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Perception, recognition, and encoding of Cantonese sound change variants Soo, Rachel


Spoken language presents listeners with a range of phonetic variation. Systematic categorical variation within/across languages/dialects exposes listeners to different pronunciation variants. This dissertation examines the pronunciation variants of a Cantonese sound change where syllable-initial /n/ (nou5 腦“brain”) is pronounced with [l] (occasionally producing homophones; lou5 腦“brain”/ 老“old”). Sociolinguistic work suggests that historical [n]-initial pronunciations are prestige variants, used in more formal contexts, and innovative [l]-initial pronunciations, while socially stigmatized, are more frequent and used in more casual contexts. Little work has examined the consequences of this sound change for speech perception and lexical processing. I test Cantonese listeners on the perception, recognition, and encoding of these sound change pronunciation variants across six experiments. An immediate repetition priming paradigm with [l]-initial targets (Experiment 1) demonstrates recognition equivalence between [n] and [l] forms, in spite of phonetic sensitivity to [n] and [l] evidenced in AX discrimination (Experiments 2a, 6a) and categorization tasks (Experiments 2b, 6b). A long distance repetition priming task (Experiment 3) establishes equivalence between [n] and [l] forms in long term recognition as well, with slightly more priming by historical [n], which I examine in an old-new recognition task (Experiment 4). The recognition task data with [l]-initial targets suggest that listeners dually map [n]- and [l]-initial pronunciation variants to a single lexical representation. An immediate priming task with [n]-initial targets (Experiment 5) demonstrates the same overall recognition equivalence, though, with slightly less priming across the board. This provides further evidence in favour of dual mapping, as [n] and [l] act to facilitate the recognition of each other. This work contributes to our understanding of the [n]-[l] sound change and uniquely situates the study of phonetic variation, traditionally studied through the lens of within-/cross-language/dialect pronunciation variants, in the context of diachronic sound change variants.

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