Nondistinctive features in loanword adaptation

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Based on a corpus of 500 stops included in 371 borrowing forms from English in Mandarin Chinese (MC), we show that English stop aspiration, which is agreed to be phonetic, does not influence phoneme categorization in MC, despite the fact that MC has phonemic aspirated stops. Thus even if their mother tongue predisposes MC speakers to distinguish aspirated from unaspirated stops, they do not rely on aspiration in English to determine phoneme categorization in MC. Both aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops of English systematically yield an aspirated stop in MC, whereas English voiced stops, which are disallowed in MC, systematically yield a voiceless unaspirated stop. These facts disfavor the perceptual stance in loanword adaptation and lend support to the phonological one.


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