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Llompart, Miquel and Reinisch, Eva (2019): Robustness of phonolexical representations relates to phonetic flexibility for difficult second language sound contrasts. In: Bilingualism-Language and Cognition, Vol. 22, No. 5: pp. 1085-1100

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Listening to speech entails adapting to vast amounts of variability in the signal. The present study examined the relationship between flexibility for adaptation in a second language (L2) and robustness of L2 phonolexical representations. Phonolexical encoding and phonetic flexibility for German learners of English were assessed by means of a lexical decision task containing nonwords with sound substitutions and a distributional learning task, respectively. Performance was analyzed for an easy (/i/-/I/) and a difficult contrast (/epsilon/-/ae/, where /ae/ does not exist in German). Results showed that for /i/-/I/ listeners were quite accurate in lexical decision, and distributional learning consistently triggered shifts in categorization. For /epsilon/-/ae/, lexical decision performance was poor but individual participants' scores related to performance in distributional learning: the better learners were in their lexical decision, the smaller their categorization shift. This suggests that, for difficult L2 contrasts, rigidity at the phonetic level relates to better lexical performance.

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