You heard “potato,” I heard “botato”: Lexical factors influence bilinguals’ phonetic perception (Poster)


Changing a single sound in a word can completely change its meaning. “Bat” can be changed to “pat” through altering the phonetic cue of Voice Onset Time (VOT), or the time it takes from the lips bursting apart to the vocal cord vibration. In any particular language, there is a specific VOT value that acts as a boundary between /b/ and /p/, but this value can vary across languages. This variation is particularly relevant for bilinguals whose languages have different VOT boundaries. Some research has suggested that bilinguals have a different boundary for each language (e.g., Gonzales et al., 2019), but this work has relied on syllables or nonwords as stimuli. Here, we evaluate if bilinguals have a different boundary for each language using real words. To date, 37 French-English bilinguals (mean age=25.13 years) have completed an online task where they reported if French and English words started with a /b/ or /p/. Words were edited on a continuum to begin with different VOTs, spanning the boundary in both languages (e.g., “puppy” was edited to sound like “buppy”). A logistic mixed-effect model revealed that participants’ perceptions were not guided by separate VOT boundaries in each language. Instead, participants were more likely to report hearing the sound that resulted in a real word (e.g., reporting hearing “puppy” despite the stimulus being phonetically “buppy”). These preliminary results suggest that lexical information influences bilinguals’ perception of sounds more than the phonetic cue of VOT.

At CRBLM Scientific Day 2021