An ubiquitous phenomenon in psychology is the `repetition effect': a repeated stimulus is processed better on the second occurrence than on the first. Yet, what counts as a repetition? When a spoken word is repeated, is it the acoustic shape or the linguistic type that matters? In the present study, we contrasted the contribution of acoustic and phonological features by using participants with different linguistic backgrounds: they came from two populations sharing a common vocabulary (Catalan) yet possessing different phonemic systems. They performed a lexical decision task with lists containing words that were repeated verbatim, as well as words that were repeated with one phonetic feature changed. The feature changes were phonemic, i.e. linguistically relevant, for one population, but not for the other. The results revealed that the repetition effect was modulated by linguistic, not acoustic, similarity: it depended on the subjects' phonemic system.