Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Recognition Memory for Foreign Language Lexical Stress

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Recognition Memory for Foreign Language Lexical Stress

Article excerpt

Published online: 7 March 2013

(© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract This study investigated whether English speakers retained the lexical stress patterns of newly learned Spanish words. Participants studied spoken Spanish words (e.g., DUcha [shower], ciuDAD [city]; stressed syllables in capital letters) and subsequently performed a recognition task, in which studied words were presented with the same lexical stress pattern (DUcha) or the opposite lexical stress pattern (ClUdad). Participants were able to discriminate same- from opposite-stress words, indicating that lexical stress was encoded and used in the recognition process. Word-form similarity to English also influenced outcomes, with Spanish cognate words and words with trochaic stress (MANgo) being recognized more often and more quickly than Spanish cognate words with iambic stress (soLAR) and noncognates. The results suggest that while segmental and suprasegmental features of the native language influence foreign word recognition, foreign lexical stress patterns are encoded and not discarded in memory.

Keywords Lexical stress · Auditory word recognition · Bilingualism · Psycholinguistics · Language acquisition

Lexical stress refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within single words. For example, the word pencil is pronounced with more stress on the first syllable (/'pen/) than on the second syllable (/sal/). The present study employed a recognition memory task to investigate two research questions: first, whether English speakers use foreign lexical stress cues to recognize newly learned Spanish words and, second, the extent to which similarity to English word forms influences the recognition process.

Lexical stress cues in English and Spanish

Acoustic measurements of lexical stress include pitch, inten- sity, and duration of word segments (Curtin, Campbell, & Hufnagle, 2012; Peperkamp, Vendelin, & Dupoux, 2010). In English, stressed syllables contain vowels that are pronounced with higher pitch and intensity and are longer than vowels in unstressed syllables (Fear, Cutler, & Butterfield, 1995). Typically, unstressed syllables contain the vowel schwa or a short form of a vowel (Cutler & Noiris, 1988). In contrast, stressed syllables contain only full vowels, making stressed syllables longer than unstressed ones (Van Donselaar, Köster, & Cutler, 2005). In the Singapore English variety spoken by our participants, vowels in unstressed syllables are not re- duced as much as in Standard English (Low, Grabe, & Nolan, 2000). However, both Standard and Singapore English reduce vowel duration in unstressed syllables, in comparison with Spanish. In polysyllabic Spanish words, vowels in both stressed and unstressed syllables are full vowels and have similar durations (Soto-Faraco, Sebastián- Galles, & Cutler, 2001; Van Donselaar et al., 2005). As a result, in Spanish, stressed syllables are differentiated from unstressed ones by pitch and intensity changes (Soto-Faraco et al., 2001; Toro, Sebastián-Galles, & Mattys, 2009).

Soto-Faraco et al. (2001) suggested that lexical stress cues may be critical in Spanish because they can be used to disambiguate many otherwise identical words existing in the Spanish lexicon (e.g., TERmino [clause] vs. terMIno [I finish] vs. termiNO [he finished]). Soto-Faraco et al. showed that the auditory prime prinCI facilitated the recog- nition of the written word prinCIpio (beginning) but that the same prime inhibited lexical access to the word PRINcipe (prince). In contrast, Cooper, Cutler, and Wales (2002) showed that a prime such as ADmi facilitated the identifi- cation of the English word ADmiral but that the same prime did not inhibit a word such admiRAtion. This shows that lexical stress is a more constraining feature in Spanish than in English during word recognition.

There is also evidence suggesting that lexical stress may not be as significant during word recognition in English. …

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