More generally, what factors determine which phoneme a non-phonemic foreign sound gets rounded to in a specific language when there are multiple possibilities available? Is the choice always consistent within a language or even per speaker?

For example, I suspect that Hebrew roundings of French vowel sounds aren't always consistent: I've heard /y/ rounded to both /i/ (e.g. /brisel/ Bruxelles and for some speakers /ti/ tu) and /u/ (e.g. /fondu/ fondue and for other speakers /tu/ tu).

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    Your question sounds very subjective. Is there any research that proves that difference between French/German speakers and Italian/Hebrew speakers?
    – Yellow Sky
    Jan 2, 2015 at 19:45
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    I don't know, though any research may well suggest an anwser to the question. Certainly both personal experience and popular perception is that French speakers pronounce 'this' as /zis/ (or possibly /dzis/) and Italian speakers say /dis/. See for example wikihow.com/Speak-With-a-Fake-Italian-Accent v wikihow.com/Fake-a-Convincing-French-Accent, or the Sondheim lyrics "I, da so famous Pirelli" (Sweeney Todd) v "We have ze lark, yes?" (Anyone Can Whistle).
    – Uri Granta
    Jan 2, 2015 at 20:24
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    French θ>s and ð>z is stated as fact in Language: Its Structure and Use By Edward Finegan (p89). As a native Hebrew speaker I'm pretty sure that θ>t and ð>d is universal or close to universal in Israel, as witnessed for example by the Internet slang 10x for thanks.
    – Uri Granta
    Jan 2, 2015 at 20:34
  • Found some relevant research: benjamins.com/#catalog/journals/li.25.1.07pic/details, gmu.edu/org/lingclub/WP/texts/3_Roman.pdf. These confirm that the substitution is systematic (but note for example that European and Canadian French use different substitutions). In fact, searching for "differential substitution" mostly gives results discussing θ and ð.
    – Uri Granta
    Jan 2, 2015 at 20:44
  • Weirdly enough, I was thinking of posting this exact same question today. As another native Hebrew speaker I can confirm that the substitution of alveolar stops for interdental fricatives is consistent in Hebrew, as far as I've observed.
    – TKR
    Jan 2, 2015 at 23:28

1 Answer 1


Here is a paper that has been written on this topic:


The author's hypothesis is:

A sound of higher occurrence frequency in L1 is more likely to be selected as a replacement for a foreign sound in L2. The process of replacement, however, cannot possibly rely only on the occurrence frequency. Otherwise, the most frequent sound would have been selected as a replacement for every foreign sound. Therefore, there should be a set of rules determining how similar two sounds are. These rules and the effects of occurrence frequency are juxtaposed to determine the result of replacement.

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