Activities and Seminars

Catherine Best. Hearing through regional accent variation: The role of perceptual assimilation in L1 and L2 spoken word recognition.
Date: Sep 27, 2013

What: Hearing through regional accent variation: The role of perceptual assimilation in L1 and L2 spoken word recognition.

Where: BCBL auditorium

When: 12 noon

Unfamiliar regional accents disrupt spoken word recognition by L2 adults and young L1 learners, can also trip up L1 adults, and often confuse ASR and smart systems. Little research, however, has addressed the aspects of non-native accents that hinder word recognition, or the processes involved. We used a Visual World task to assess how English regional accent differences influence the time course of spoken word recognition by L1 and L2 adults. Based on the principles of the Perceptual Assimilation Model (PAM: e.g., Best, 1995, and PAM-L2: Best & Tyler, 2007), we selected cross-accent differences in consonant and vowel pronunciation to fall into two broad categories: Category Shifting (CS) and Category Goodness (CG). CS differences refer to pronunciations in a relatively unfamiliar regional accent that L1 listeners are likely to perceptually assimilate to their native accent as a different phoneme than the speaker intended, e.g., Australian (AusE) listeners tend to hear TH in Cockney-accented THIEVES as [f]. CG accent differences non-native accented phoneme pronunciations that are likely to be assimilated instead as merely deviant pronunciations of the same phoneme in the listener’s native accent, e.g., AusE listeners hear the affricated T in Cockney-accented TINY as a /t/ with a deviant or marked pronunciation. Two listener groups of listeners, for whom AusE was the L1 or L2 (Chinese L1-Mandarin speakers), heard words spoken in AusE and two unfamiliar accents, Cockney-(CknE) and Jamaican-Mesolect-accented English (JaME), which display both CS and CG differences from AusE, primarily in their consonant (CknE) or vowel pronunciations (JaME). Listeners heard each word and identified it by clicking among printed choices of the target word, word onset competitor, word offset competitor, and phonologically unrelated distracter, or ³not there². Proportions of fixations to onset and offset competitors during the decision period indicate that cross-accent perceptual assimilation to the AusE accent played a key role in recognition of JaME and CknE pronunciations for both L1 and L2 listeners, especially at word onsets but also at offsets. Vowel and consonant variations affected lexical competition similarly in both groups, suggesting the L2 listeners had formed AusE-accented lexical representations, with one exception: for CknE words the L2 listeners failed to show the same assimilation (CS>CG) difference for word offset competitors as the L1 listeners. Thus, although the Mandarin listeners had formed AusE-like phonological categories for their L2-English, they paid less attention to consonant coda information than did L1-AusE listeners, suggesting a persistent influence of their L1-Mandarin, in which only nasal consonants can occur in coda positions. Implications of these findings for current perspectives on spoken word recognition and cross-language speech perception will be discussed.