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Shallow vs. deep : bilingual contrast processing Yoshida, Katherine Aya

Abstract

Languages differ in the range of phones that cluster together to carry the same meaning, forming phonemic categories (e.g. all the possible manifestations of /l/ in English). These phonemes then contrast with one another to denote differences of meaning (e.g. /l/ vs. /r/, a valid contrast in English but not in Japanese). Infants are born with the ability to discriminate contrasts belonging to their native language, as well as those that are non-native contrasts. However, by 10-12 months of age they refine their repertoire, leaving only those utilized in the language input (Werker & Tees, 1984). The subsequent formation of non-native phonemes belonging to an ensuing second language (L2) is less clearly understood. This work uses Cantonese-native ESL speakers to investigate the distinction between "shallow" knowledge of non-native (Englishspecific) isolated phonemes and "deep" knowledge of the phonemes embedded within a linguistic context (Werker et al, 2001). Deep knowledge of the non-native contrasts is tested using a lexical decision task (Pallier, Colomé & Sebastián-Gallés, 2001) and compared to shallow knowledge, operationalized as ability to perceive differences between pairs of isolated phones. Results indicated that the bilinguals had difficulty perceiving the English-specific contrasts within the deep context, but not within the shallow context. Thus, support is found for a shallow-deep distinction within L2 speakers of a language. This helps explain previous divergent findings of L2 perception, and may potentially have implications for hypotheses of interference and a critical period.

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