French is a language in which accent is mandatory on the last syllable of every content word. In contrast, Spanish uses accent to distinguish different lexical items (e.g., b'ebe vs beb'e). Two population of subjects were tested on the same materials to study whether such linguistic differences have an impact on the perceptual capacities of listeners. In Experiment 1, using an ABX paradigm, we find that French Subjects have a surprising deficit compared to Spanish Subjects in making accent distinctions. In Experiment 2, we find that Spanish subjects cannot ignore irrelevant differences in accent in a phoneme-based ABX task, whereas French Subjects have no difficulty at all. In Experiment 3, we replicate the basic French finding, and find that Spanish subjects benefit from redundant accent information even when phonemic information alone is sufficient to perform the task. In our final Experiment 4, we show that French subjects can hear the acoustic correlates of accent; their problem seem to arise at the level of short term memory. Implications for language-specific processing and acquisition are discussed
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