What's so funny about ha-ħa? Non-native MMN responses to Arabic phonemes

Andreas Højlund Nielsen, Loukianos Spyrou, Makiko Sadakata, Alex Brandmeyer, Christian Hoffmann, Mihaela Grigore, Peter W. M. Desain, James M. McQueen

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Abstract

In this paper we present electrophysiological and behavioral results from a study on non-native speakers listening to, identifying and discriminating an Arabic phonemic contrast, [h] versus [ħ] (emphatic "h"). The non-native speakers were native Dutch speakers with no knowledge of Arabic. Arabic phonology has not previously been studied in an electrophysiological context; the present study thus adds yet another piece to the cross-linguistic puzzle of differences in mismatch negativity (MMN) reflecting differences in phonological categories between native and non-native speakers. The unvoiced glottal fricative [h] is fairly common in Dutch, whereas the emphatic (≈ heavily fricated) counterpart, [ħ], does not appear in Dutch. We therefore hypothesized that the Dutch speakers would not perceive a continuum of this contrast as categorically distinct, but rather as a continuum of increasing or decreasing glottal frication, unlike native Arabic speakers. And we further hypothesized that the native Dutch speakers would therefore show mismatch negativities (MMNs) significantly lower in amplitude to the Arabic than to a larger native Dutch contrast between [h] and [f], potentially reflecting a difference in categorical perception due to native language tuning. We did not find support of this hypothesis. Instead, we saw MMN responses in the native Dutch speakers that were stronger to the Arabic contrast ([h] vs. [ħ]) than to the native Dutch contrast of ([h] vs. [f]).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date26 Oct 2012
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2012
EventDonders Discussions 2012: A conference for PhD students in cognition and neuroscience - Nijmegen, Netherlands
Duration: 25 Oct 201226 Oct 2012

Conference

ConferenceDonders Discussions 2012
Country/TerritoryNetherlands
CityNijmegen
Period25/10/201226/10/2012

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