Cross-Linguistic Speech Perception: Testing Identification Accuracy of Spanish and Portuguese Words by Native Spanish and Portuguese Listeners

Melanie Rosa-Chaves, Miriam Baigorri

Several subtypes of languages continue to preserve similar typological features–
surfacing over time within each language respectively (Kabatek & Pusch, 2011). This enhances
the communication experience of speakers of mutually intelligible languages through the use of
linguistic commonalities (e.g., phonemes, key terms, idiomatic expressions). Best and Tyler
(2007)’s findings suggest that “differences in the native language and L2 vowel inventories may
render some L2 vowels more difficult to perceive than others.” Similarly, Elvin et al. (2014)’s
research indicates vowels that are not present in one’s L1 can negatively impact the accuracy of
speech perception in the nonative language. Because vowels carry a large part of the speech
signal (Kewley-Port, Burkle, & Lee, 2007), understanding of the non-native language may be
reduced due to the differences in L1 and non-native vowel inventories. To our knowledge, little
is known about cross-linguistic speech perception of Spanish and Portuguese vowels by Spanish
and Portuguese listeners.
The purpose of this research is to identify differences in speech perception that are
dependent upon vocalic differences in the Spanish and Portuguese languages. More specifically,
utilizing the nasalized diphthongs of Portuguese. The Spanish vocalic system consists of five
vowels which originate from Classical Latin (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/), whereas the Portuguese
vocalic system derives from Vulgar Latin and has twelve vowels (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/, /ɔ/, /ε/, /ã/,
/ẽ/, /ĩ/, /õ/, and /ũ/). As a result of this notion, we can infer that Portuguese has a more “complex”
vocalic system as seen by its extensive use of vocalic sounds as compared to that of Spanish
(Alkire & Rosen, 2010). The project aims to survey and investigate the differentiation of cross-
linguistic identification accuracy of Spanish and Portuguese words by 15 native Spanish listeners
and 15 Portuguese listeners. All Portuguese words contain nasalized diphthongs (e.g., [ão], [õe]).
Critical findings may provide information on how a complex vocalic system may further
complicate or enhance second language acquisition. Furthermore, the collected data will be used
to determine whether these predicted differences are central to native language, a particular
vowel, environmental exposure, or a possible culmination of all three. It is hypothesized that a
language-specific difference will be observed amongst both groups. More specifically, with
Portuguese listeners identifying Spanish words with higher accuracy compared to those of
Spanish listeners when identifying Portuguese words.