Processing of Illegal Consonant Clusters: A Case of Perceptual Assimilation?

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Evidence is presented for a perceptual shift affecting consonant clusters that are phonotactically illegal, albeit pronounceable, in French. They are perceived as phonetically close legal clusters. Specifically, word-initial /dl/ and /tl/ are heard as /gl/ and /kl/, respectively. In 2 phonemic gating experiments, participants generally judged short gates—which did not yet contain information about the 2nd consonant /l/—as being dental stops. However, as information for the /l/ became available in larger gates, a perceptual shift developed in which the initial stops were increasingly judged to be velars. A final phoneme monitoring test suggested that this kind of shift took place on-line during speech processing and with some extratemporal processing cost. These results provide evidence for the automatic integration of low-level phonetic information into a more abstract code determined by the native phonological system.

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