Language specificity in the perception of voiceless sibilant fricatives in Japanese and English: implications for cross-language differences in speech-sound development

Publication Type:

Journal Article


The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Volume 129, Issue 2, p.999-1011 (2011)

Other Number:




Adult, Audiometry, Speech, Child, Preschool, Cues, Humans, Language, Logistic Models, Phonetics, Probability, Signal Detection, Psychological, Sound Spectrography, Speech Acoustics, Speech Perception


Both English and Japanese have two voiceless sibilant fricatives, an anterior fricative /s/ contrasting with a more posterior fricative /ʃ/. When children acquire sibilant fricatives, English-speaking children typically substitute [s] for /ʃ/, whereas Japanese children typically substitute [ʃ] for /s/. This study examined English- and Japanese-speaking adults’ perception of children’s productions of voiceless sibilant fricatives to investigate whether the apparent asymmetry in the acquisition of voiceless sibilant fricatives reported previously in the two languages was due in part to how adults perceive children’s speech. The results of this study show that adult speakers of English and Japanese weighed acoustic parameters differently when identifying fricatives produced by children and that these differences explain, in part, the apparent cross-language asymmetry in fricative acquisition. This study shows that generalizations about universal and language-specific patterns in speech-sound development cannot be determined without considering all sources of variation including speech perception.

PDF of article553.56 KB