The Development of Perceptual Sensitivity to Polish Sibilants at First Exposure

Ellenor Shoemaker


The current study examines the development of non-native phoneme discrimination in the very first hours of exposure to a second language. Thirty-six native speakers of French received a total of 14 hours of oral input in Polish over a 10-day period. None of the participants had previously studied Polish or another Slavic language and the input included no explicit phonological instruction. Participants completed an AX discrimination task at three intervals: T1 (0 hours of input), T2 (4.5 hours of input) and T3 (10.5 hours of input). Stimuli consisted of pairs of CV non-words including six sibilant fricatives from the Polish phonemic inventory. Discrimination of non-native phonemes showed a main effect of Test Interval in accuracy scores, suggesting that participants’ discrimination improved significantly as a function of input. Post-hoc analyses showed, however, that the difference was only significant between T1 and T3 and between T2 and T3, suggesting that 4.5 hours of input was not sufficient for participants to begin to establish new phonemic categories. Nonetheless, the current results show a significant increase in the ability of participants to discriminate non-native sounds after very limited acoustic input in the target language, shedding light on the developmental course of adult phonological acquisition.


speech perception, first exposure, second language phonology, second language acquisition, phonological acquisition

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