Salento Italian (SI) listeners' categorization and discrimination of standard Southern British English (SSBE) vowels were examined in order to establish their initial state in the acquisition of the SSBE vowel system. The results of the vowel categorization task revealed that SI listeners showed single-category assimilation for many SSBE vowels and multiple-category assimilation for others. Additionally, SI vowel discrimination accuracy varied across contrasts, in line with the categorization results. This differential level of difficulty is discussed on the basis of current L2 perception models. The SI categorization results were then compared to the previously reported data on Peruvian Spanish (PS) listeners. Both SI and PS have a five-vowel inventory and therefore both listener groups were expected to have similar problems when distinguishing SSBE vowel contrasts, but were predicted to have different mappings of SSBE vowels to native categories due to the differences in the acoustic properties of vowels across the two languages. As predicted by the hypothesis that acoustic differences in production lead to a different nonnative perception, the comparison showed that there was large variability in how SSBE vowels are initially mapped to the specific five-vowel inventory. Predictions for differential L2 development across languages are also provided.
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