Perceptual Assimilation Model

The Perceptual Assimilation Model (Best 1995) describes a process by which we perceptually assimilate non-native phonemes into our own phonemic inventory. It proposes three possible classifications:

  • 1. Categorized exemplar of some native phoneme, for which its goodness of fit may range from excellent to poor
  • 2. Uncategorized consonant or vowel that falls somewhere in between native phonemes (i.e., is roughly similar to two or more phonemes). Uncategorized non-native phones can be further sorted:
    • a) Two Category assimilation - a non-native sound may assimilate to two phonetically similar native phones
    • b) Single Category assimilation - two non-native phones assimilate equally well or poorly to a single native phone
  • 3. Non-assimilable sound that bears no detectable similarity to any native phonemes


Best, Catherine T., McRoberts, Gerald W., and Goodell, Elizabeth. Discrimination of non-native consonant contrasts varying in perceptual assimilation to the listener’s native phonological system. J Acoust Soc Am. 2001 February; 109(2): 775–794.