Second language (L2) learners of English whose native languages have relatively simple syllable structure have a strong tendency to modify complex onsets in production. Past studies have shown that such modification is often correlated with sonority-based markedness. According to this principle, the marked bi-consonantal sequences are such that the sonority distance between the first consonant and the subsequent consonant is relatively small. For instance, /pl/ is considered to be less marked than /bl/ since the former has larger sonority distance. A question of interest here is whether such “markedness” would be applicable to the perception of complex onsets by Japanese-speaking learners of English. The current study tested Japanese L2 learners and American English controls in a categorial ABX discrimination test of 8 contrasts between nonsense words with consonant cluster onsets CC(C)VCV vs. CVC(C)VCV sequences (e.g., /spani/ vs. /sepani/) and included /sp, sk, pl, bl, kl, gl, spl, skl/ clusters. Results showed that overall accuracy by Japanese listeners was significantly poorer than for the Americans (72 % and 98% correct, respectively). Certain clusters were harder for Japanese listeners (e.g., 76% correct for /pl/ but 64% for /bl/). However, in general, relative difficulty was not accurately predicted by sonority-based markedness. Alternative hypotheses for relative perceptual difficulties include the acoustic characteristics of the stimulus materials and effects of native phonological structures.
Sperbeck, Mieko and Strange, Winifred
"The Perception of Complex Onsets in English: Universal Markedness?,"
University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics: Vol. 16
, Article 22.
Available at: https://repository.upenn.edu/pwpl/vol16/iss1/22