This study reports general and language-specific patterns in phoneme identification. In a series of phoneme monitoring experiments, Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Dutch, English, and Polish listeners identified vowel, fricative, and stop consonant targets that are phonemic in all these languages, embedded in nonsense words. Fricatives were generally identified more slowly than vowels, while the speed of identification for stop consonants was highly dependent on the onset of the measurements. Moreover, listeners’ response latencies and accuracy in detecting a phoneme correlated with the number of categories within that phoneme’s class in the listener’s native phoneme repertoire: more native categories slowed listeners down and decreased their accuracy. We excluded the possibility that this effect stems from differences in the frequencies of occurrence of the phonemes in the different languages. Rather, the effect of the number of categories can be explained by general properties of the perception system, which cause language-specific patterns in speech processing.

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