On the relation between speech perception and loanword adaptation

Cross-linguistic perception of Korean-illicit word-medial clusters
  • Robert Daland
  • Mira OhEmail author
  • Lisa Davidson


Loanword adaptation has been claimed to provide a unique window onto the relation between speech perception and the phonological grammar. This paper focuses on whether the ‘illusory vowel’ effect—in which the presence/absence of a vowel is poorly discriminated within an illicit cluster—is sufficient to explain why vowel epenthesis is the preferred repair for medial clusters in Korean loanword adaptation. A cross-linguistic discrimination experiment revealed a causative role of the stop release burst (or other audible frication noise) in the perception of an illusory vowel; in some cases, perception alone explains vowel epenthesis in loanword adaptation. A follow-up, identification experiment showed that Koreans’ perceptual similarity judgements do not match up with the adaptation pattern for stop-nasal clusters (e.g. pakna), although they do for fricative-stop and stop-stop clusters (e.g. paska, pakta). This finding is problematic for a purely perceptual account of loanword adaptation. The paper sketches a Bayesian account of Korean speech perception that integrates top-down phonotactic likelihood and bottom-up acoustic match and is able to explain the experimental results. It closes with some speculation on the role of the Preservation Principle versus perception in loanword adaptation.


Speech perception Loanword phonology Bayesian Korean Phonotactics 



We wish to acknowledge Sharon Peperkamp, Michael Kenstowicz, and an anonymous reviewer for constructive suggestions. This work has benefitted from the comments of various audiences, including the UCLA Phonology Seminar, Northwestern University Linguistics Department, Chonnam National University English Department, University of Arizona Linguistics Department, and the Keio Reading Circle (including Shigeto Kawahara, Junko Ito, and Armin Mester). We also wish to acknowledge Quinton Maynard and IMC for the use of office space during winter and summer breaks, and Syejeong Kim for facilitating the experiments in Korea. This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2016S1A5A2A01024340).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUCLALos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of EnglishChonnam National UniversityGwangjuSouth Korea
  3. 3.Department of LinguisticsNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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