ISCA Workshop on Plasticity in Speech Perception (PSP2005)

Senate House, London, UK
June 15-17, 2005

Perception of Non-Native Vowels by Finnish Learners of French

Virpi Kalliorinne, Maija S. Peltola, Olli Aaltonen

University of Turku, Finland

Non-native speech sound perception is based on the mother tongue. In this study we tested the identification, goodness rating and discrimination performances of Finnish learners of French to see whether they have acquired the French perceptual patterns. We examined a back vowel continuum with only two categories in Finnish (/o/ and /a/), but three in French (/o/, open /o/ and /a/). According to Flege's Speech Learning Model (1987), learners may have difficulties with perceiving the French open /o/ because of its similarity with the Finnish /o/. Three groups were included: 1) advanced Finnish students of French (n=9), 2) native French speakers (n=10) and 3) monolingual Finns (n=12). Groups 1 and 2 listened to the French vowels and group 3 to the Finnish ones. The stimulus continuum consisted of 12 synthesized vowels. The F1 values varied with steps of 20.4 mels (480-740 Hz), and F2 values with steps of 20.9 mels (850-1200 Hz).

The results showed that students and French speakers identified the stimulus continuum similarly. The locations of category boundaries did not differ significantly, but - at the shared boundary between Finnish /o/-/a/ and French open /o/-/a/ - the students' identification consistency was low in comparison with the monolingual Finns (F(1,19)=10,879, p=0,004). In goodness rating, students and French speakers evaluated the quality of the shared boundary differently from the monolingual Finns (F(2,28)=9,929, p=0,001). The discrimination task indicated that monolingual Finns showed an increased discrimination function at the boundary in comparison with the central category members. In contrast, this pattern was not found in students, or in French speakers. Consequently, it seems that Finnish learners of French perceived the stimuli in accordance with the French system. However, the inconsistency in identification task may imply that the students continued to hesitate in their responses, which may reflect the ongoing nature of the learning process. In short, the present results supported the findings by Flege et al. (1999) where they showed that perception can become native-like in advanced students of language.


Flege, J. 1987. The production of "new" and "similar" phones in a foreign language: evidence for the effect of equivalence classification. Journal of Phonetics 15, 47-65.

Flege, J., MacKay, I. & Meador, D. 1999. Native Italian speakers' perception and production of English vowels. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 106 (5), 2973-2987.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Kalliorinne, Virpi / Peltola, Maija S. / Aaltonen, Olli (2005): "Perception of non-native vowels by Finnish learners of French", In PSP2005, 179-182.