This paper reports on the findings of a pilot study which investigated Cantonese and Japanese listeners’ ability to perceive non-native length contrasts in (Japanese and) Estonian. Specifically, we examined whether L1 phonology affects the perception of non-native sound contrasts at a discrete, categorical level or a gradient, ‘featural’ level. We recruited native Cantonese and Japanese listeners for a series of AXB discrimination and identification tasks. Synthesized nonce words contrasting in the length of vowels and consonants were used in the experiments. The results showed that while Japanese listeners outperformed their Cantonese counterparts in discrimination and identification, their identification accuracy for overlong Estonian vowels and consonants was not as high as that for long Estonian vowels and consonants. These findings are discussed with reference to the ‘feature hypothesis’ in L2 phonological acquisition.

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