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Novel second-language words and asymmetric lexical access


Mitterer,  Holger
Language Comprehension Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Phonological Learning for Speech Perception , MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Escudero, P., Hayes-Harb, R., & Mitterer, H. (2008). Novel second-language words and asymmetric lexical access. Journal of Phonetics, 36(2), 345-360. doi:10.1016/j.wocn.2007.11.002.

The lexical and phonetic mapping of auditorily confusable L2 nonwords was examined by teaching L2 learners novel words and by later examining their word recognition using an eye-tracking paradigm. During word learning, two groups of highly proficient Dutch learners of English learned 20 English nonwords, of which 10 contained the English contrast /e/-æ/ (a confusable contrast for native Dutch speakers). One group of subjects learned the words by matching their auditory forms to pictured meanings, while a second group additionally saw the spelled forms of the words. We found that the group who received only auditory forms confused words containing /æ/ and /e/ symmetrically, i.e., both /æ/ and /e/ auditory tokens triggered looks to pictures containing both /æ/ and /e/. In contrast, the group who also had access to spelled forms showed the same asymmetric word recognition pattern found by previous studies, i.e., they only looked at pictures of words containing /e/ when presented with /e/ target tokens, but looked at pictures of words containing both /æ/ and /e/ when presented with /æ/ target tokens. The results demonstrate that L2 learners can form lexical contrasts for auditorily confusable novel L2 words. However, and most importantly, this study suggests that explicit information over the contrastive nature of two new sounds may be needed to build separate lexical representations for similar-sounding L2 words.