Publication details [#83]

Cutler, Anne. 2000. Listening to a second language through the ears of a first. Interpreting 5 (1) : 1–23.
Publication type
Article in jnl/bk
Publication language
Journal DOI


The processes by which listeners recognize spoken language are highly language-specific. Listeners’ expectations of how meaning is expressed in words and sentences are formed by the lexicon and grammar of the native language; but the phonology plays an even more immediate role. Thus the native phoneme repertoire constrains listeners’ ability to discriminate phonetic contrasts; and a further area in which such constraints arise is the segmentation of continuous speech into its component words. A large body of research is summarised here, motivating three conclusions: (1) In segmenting speech, speakers of different languages apply different heuristic procedures, efficiently exploiting the specific phonological structure of their various languages. (2) These procedures have become part of the listeners’ processing system, to an extent that they are also applied when listening to non-native languages, even though this may lead to inefficiency. (3) It may be impossible to acquire the use of multiple procedures of this kind; but it is possible to inhibit the misapplication of native procedure to other languages for which they are inefficient.
Source : Abstract in journal