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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas