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Exploring variation in nonnative Japanese learners’ perception of lexical pitch accent: The roles of processing resources and learning context

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 November 2019

Seth Goss
Emory University
E-mail address:


This article reports findings on the effects of processing resources and learning context on the perceptual learning of lexical pitch accent in beginning nonnative Japanese learners. Native English speakers in at-home and study-abroad contexts were tested twice during a semester of Japanese study on their ability to judge the correctness of and categorize nouns by their pitch pattern. Regression analyses indicated that the ability to store nonnative-like sound sequences in phonological short-term memory (PSTM), as well as auditory processing ability, predicted a significant degree of perceptual gains made over a 12-week interval. However, these predictors were task specific in that PSTM capacity predicted correctness judgment gains, while auditory processing accounted for variation in categorization. Furthermore, despite learners in the at-home context performing slightly better overall, processing resources adhered to the same predictive pattern when context was taken into account. The results suggest that (a) neither increased input during study-abroad nor targeted instruction is sufficient for most learners to acquire lexical accent; (b) processing resources support the acquisition of lexical prosody, but these may depend on how learning is assessed; and (c) PSTM operates across learning contexts, suggesting it to be a domain-general capacity in early-stage nonnative language acquisition.

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© Cambridge University Press 2019 

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