Jiyeon Song

Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Amanda Dalola


Our auditory perceptual processing is optimized for the sound patterns of our native language. Consequently, when non-native segments are perceived, speech “illusions” often occur. This well-known phenomenon, known as the perception of illusory vowels, occurs when listeners of a borrowing language (BL) perceive vowels that do not exist underlyingly in the source language (SL).

Illusory vowels have often been considered to be the default vowel in a language: /ɨ/ in Korean, /u/ in Japanese, /ə/ in English, /e/ in Spanish, and /i/ in Brazilian Portuguese. This raises the question of how vowel systems affect the quality of illusory vowels. For this, the vowel merger in North Kyungsang Korean (NKK) was examined. Unlike other Korean dialects, NKK has shown a merger of /ɨ/ and /ʌ/ to /ʌ/ since the 18th century. That is, the default illusory vowel /ɨ/ shifts to something more /ʌ/-like in NKK. Interestingly, the NKK /ɨ/-/ʌ/ vowel merger has been in progress of demerging the vowels among younger generations. Consequently, older NKK speakers, who are more likely to merge the two vowels, would be expected to insert /ʌ/ instead of /ɨ/ in loanword adaptation, whereas younger NKK speakers, who are less likely to merge the two vowels, would be expected to insert /ɨ/. As such, the NKK /ɨ/-/ʌ/ vowel merger is well placed to offer insight on the effect of the vowel merger on the quality of an illusory vowel.

Furthermore, the quality of illusory vowels is known to be affected by the place features of the preceding consonant through the process of vowel-to-consonant assimilation, such that we expect the central unrounded vowel /ɨ/ to appear after alveolars and velars, the high front unrounded vowel /i/ to appear after palatals, and /ɨ/ or /u/ to appear after labials. However, this study also observed that the rhoticity of the following /ɹ/ can induce the illusory vowel /u/. Therefore, this research investigates how illusory vowels correlate with preceding and following consonants.

Results of this research illustrate that older NKK speakers often perceived and produced /ʌ/ where /ɨ/ would otherwise be perceived or produced, suggesting that the unmarked or perceptually least salient vowel for vowel epenthesis in loanword adaptation can, in fact, be affected by a vowel merger. The results also suggest that illusory vowels function to preserve non-distinctive phonetic details of the SL such as stop release and liquid duration and can also reflect the rhoticity of the following liquid.

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