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One's native language (L1) is known to influence the development of a nonnative language (L2) at multiple levels, but the nature of L1 transfer to L2 perception remains unclear. This study explored the hypothesis that transfer effects in perception come from L1-specific processing strategies, which direct attention to phonetic cues according to their estimated relative functional load (RFL). Using target languages that were either familiar (English) or unfamiliar (Korean), perception of unreleased final stops was tested in L1 English listeners and four groups of L2 English learners whose L1s differ in stop phonotactics and the estimated RFL of a crucial cue to unreleased stops (i.e., vowel-to-consonant formant transitions). Results were, overall, consistent with the hypothesis, with L1 Japanese listeners showing the poorest perception, followed by L1 Mandarin, Russian, English, and Korean listeners. Two exceptions occurred with Russian listeners, who underperformed Mandarin listeners in identification of English stops and outperformed English listeners in identification of Korean stops. Taken together, these findings support a cue-centric view of transfer based on perceptual attention over a phonotactic view based on structural conformity. However, transfer interacts with prior L2 knowledge, which may result in significantly different perceptual consequences for a familiar and an unfamiliar L2.
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