We examined the perception of Japanese consonant length contrasts (singleton vs geminate) in four groups of listeners: two groups of non-native learners of Japanese, three each at highly-advanced (NNJ1) and upper-intermediate (NNJ2) levels, native speakers of Italian (IT) (n=10) and Australian English (OZ) (n=8) with no knowledge of Japanese. Because Italian, like Japanese, uses consonant length contrastively but Australian English does not, we were interested in whether first language (L1) knowledge of consonant length might have an effect on the ability to perceive short and long Japanese consonants. The NNJ1 learners were more accurate in identifying Japanese singleton and geminate consonants than were the IT listeners who, in turn, were more accurate than the OZ listeners. The NNJ2 learners' results showed similarities and differences to the IT and OZ listeners. Our preliminary results suggest that L1 experience with consonant length may not necessarily guarantee accurate perception of consonant length in an unknown language. However, it may offer some advantage over lack of exposure to consonant length. In addition, the results for learner proficiency demonstrate that non-native learners need much time/practice before they clearly differentiate themselves from naïve listeners, reconfirming previous research that consonant length contrasts are difficult to acquire.
Bibliographic reference. Tsukada, Kimiko / Cox, Felicity / Hajek, John (2014): "Cross-language perception of Japanese singleton and geminate consonants: preliminary data from non-native learners of Japanese and native speakers of Italian and australian English", In INTERSPEECH-2014, 1288-1292.