However, on the Conlang Mailing List, And Rosta proposed an alternative model. His idea is that English actually has aspirated stops /p_h t_h k_h/ and unaspirated stops /b d g/. Voicing would be a redundant secondary feature of unaspirated stops - the [t] in "stop" would actually be a /d/ that's lost its voice. And put forward a number of interesting theoretical arguments for this, but I thought that it needed to be tested experimentally.
If the standard interpretation of English phonology is correct, English speakers should find voiced and voiceless stops easier to tell apart than aspirated and unaspirated stops. In And's interpretation, they should find aspirated and unaspirated stops easier to tell apart than voiced and voiceless.
Bengali distinguishes between plain (voiceless, unaspirated), apsirated, voiced and voiced aspirated (breathy voiced or murmured) stops. I asked a Bengali speaker to record a sample of 20 words which you can listen to here and transcribe them in CXS. I then asked three volunteers from the Conlang Mailing list, all of whom were monoglot English speakers, to listen to the recording, and trascribe their first impression of what they heard. Here are the results.
|Original||Listener 1||Listener 2||Listener 3|
For each stop and affricate in the sample, I then recorded which of the four categories it fell into, and how the volunteers identified it. The results are as follows.
From this we can see that English speakers correctly identify plain stops as voiceless 70% of the time. They almost always identify voiceless stops as plain, whether or not they are aspirated. Aspirated voiceless stops are always identified as voiceless. Voiced stops are almost always correctly identified, and voiced aspirated stops, which are alien to English, are never correctly identified.
These results are more consistent with voicing being the primary feature than aspiration. Sorry, And.