Japanese Perceptual Epenthesis is Modulated by Transitional Probability

Alexander Kilpatrick, Shigeto Kawahara, Rikke Bundgaard-Nielsen, Brett Baker, Janet Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Perceptual epenthesis is the perception of illusory vowels in consonantal sequences that violate native phonotactics. The consensus has been that each language has a single, predictable candidate for perceptual epenthesis, that vowel which is most minimal (i.e., shortest and/or quietest). However, recent studies have shown that alternate epenthetic vowels can be perceived when the perceptual epenthesis of the minimal vowel would violate native co-occurrence restrictions. We propose a potential explanation for these observed patterns: speech perception, and thus also vowel perceptual epenthesis, is modulated by transitional probability whereby epenthetic vowels must conform to the language specific expectations of the listener. To test this explanation, we present two experiments examining perceptual epenthesis of two Japanese vowels—/u/ and /i/—against their transitional probability in CV sequences. In Experiment 1, Japanese listeners assigned VCCV tokens to VCuCV and VCiCV categories. In Experiment 2, participants discriminated VCCV tokens from VCuCV and VCiCV tokens. The results show that sequences where /i/ is transitionally probable are more likely to elicit /i/ perceptual epenthesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-223
Number of pages21
JournalLanguage and Speech
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Mar


  • Japanese
  • Perceptual epenthesis
  • entropy
  • surprisal
  • transitional probability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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