This study examines the perception of short and long vowels in Arabic and Japanese by three groups of listeners differing in their first languages (L1): Arabic, Japanese, and Persian. While Persian uses the same alphabet as Arabic and Iranian students learn Arabic in school, the two languages are typologically unrelated. Further, unlike Arabic or Japanese, vowel length may no longer be contrastive in modern Persian. In this study, a question of interest was whether Persian listeners' foreign language learning experience or Japanese listeners' L1 phonological experience might help them to accurately process short and long vowels in Arabic. In Experiment 1, Arabic and Japanese listeners were more accurate than Persian listeners in discriminating vowel length contrasts in their own L1 only. In Experiment 2, Arabic and Japanese listeners were more accurate than Persian listeners in identifying the length categories in the "other" unknown language as well as in their own L1. The difference in the listeners' perceptual performance between the two experiments supports the view that long-term L1 representations may be invoked to a greater extent in the identification than discrimination test. The present results highlight the importance of selecting the appropriate test for assessing cross-language speech perception.
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