Purpose

This study investigated how listeners' native language affects their weighting of acoustic cues (such as vowel quality, pitch, duration, and intensity) in the perception of contrastive word stress.

Method

Native speakers (N = 45) of typologically diverse languages (English, Russian, and Mandarin) performed a stress identification task on nonce disyllabic words with fully crossed combinations of each of the 4 cues in both syllables.

Results

The results revealed that although the vowel quality cue was the strongest cue for all groups of listeners, pitch was the second strongest cue for the English and the Mandarin listeners but was virtually disregarded by the Russian listeners. Duration and intensity cues were used by the Russian listeners to a significantly greater extent compared with the English and Mandarin participants. Compared with when cues were noncontrastive across syllables, cues were stronger when they were in the iambic contour than when they were in the trochaic contour.

Conclusions

Although both English and Russian are stress languages and Mandarin is a tonal language, stress perception performance of the Mandarin listeners but not of the Russian listeners is more similar to that of the native English listeners, both in terms of weighting of the acoustic cues and the cues' relative strength in different word positions. The findings suggest that tuning of second-language prosodic perceptions is not entirely predictable by prosodic similarities across languages.

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