Phonology versus phonetics in loanword adaptations

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The question of whether loanword adaptation is based on phonological or phonetic proximity has been widely debated. Focusing on the adaptation of English vowels in French, I argue that on-line adaptations are based on perceived phonetic proximity, which is influenced by co-articulatory information. A perception experiment assessed French listeners’ perception of English vowels presented both within and spliced out of CVC syllables; the results were compared to the on-line adaptations of the same vowels in the same consonantal contexts produced previously by French speakers (Vendelin & Peperkamp 2006). Vowel identification in the two conditions differed, and the on-line adaptations are reflected more closely by the condition with vowels presented in context. These results support the hypothesis that on-line adaptations are based on phonetic, not phonological, proximity. They also show that phonetic variability due to coarticulation influences perception and hence that consonantal context should be controlled for in cross-linguistic vowel comparisons.


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