Production and perception of voicing and devoicing in similar German and English word pairs by native speakers of German

Bruce L. Smith; Rachel Hayes-Harb; Michael Bruss; Amy Harker

In: S.A. Frisch (Hrsg.). Journal of Phonetics, Vol. 37, No. 3, Pages 257-275, Elsevier, 7/2009.


German manifests a phonological pattern of word-final consonant devoicing, with an underlying voicing contrast that is largely "neutralized" in speech, whereas English has a surface voicing contrast in final position. This raises questions concerning how well native German speakers learning English can produce a voicing contrast in English while continuing to neutralize the underlying German contrast, and especially how German speakers produce similar word pairs in the two languages (e.g., English: rod/rot; German: Rad/Rat). The present study examined the speech of 13 native Germans producing words in both languages and 13 native English speakers' productions of English words. Acoustic analyses indicated that the native Germans showed more evidence of a final voicing distinction when producing English words than for phonologically similar German words. However, they typically produced fewer or less robust acoustic cues to word-final voicing when speaking English than the native English speakers did. An auditory word identification task also assessed intelligibility of German-accented and native English for German and English listeners. In contrast to studies showing an interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit, German listeners found native English speech to be more intelligible than German-accented English for the English word-final voicing contrast; they also did not find German-accented English more intelligible than native English listeners did.

Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz
German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence