Does Linguistic Environment Matter? Exploring the Effects of Speech Community Diffuseness in Perceptual Learning

CGS Brown Bag Lecture Series
Nov 07, 2018
12:15 PM to 01:15 PM
25 Burrowes

Alexander McAllister, Penn State 

In an increasingly interconnected world, contact with dialects other than our own is widespread. In recognizing these dialects, perceivers are highly sensitive to variation in sound categories. The process in which a perceiver adapts to a novel production of a sound category is typically described as perceptual learning (Norris et al., 2003), a process in which atypical sounds in the speech of an unfamiliar talker are “mapped” onto familiar ones. Generalizing this learning from one speaker to another has been found to be elusive. Perceivers are quite capable of adapting to idiosyncratic speech, but less so at learning to correlate such variation to groups of speakers.

In this talk, McAllister asks whether the dialectal makeup of a speech community affects the generalization process in perceptual learning. He hypothesizes that experience with greater dialect diversity will lead listeners to consider the possibility that unfamiliar sound features produced by speakers belong to a previously unencountered dialect variety. He will present preliminary findings from a perceptual learning paradigm task in which participants were exposed to two speakers producing a nonce Spanish dialect, being trained in one voice and tested in the other. Participants came from Spanish speaking populations from two US institutions (Penn State and UC Riverside) representing relatively heterogeneous and homogeneous dialectal speech communities respectively, and were hypothesized to differ in how they treat variation. 

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