Partnerships for International
Research and Education
Partnerships for International
Research and Education

Conference Talks

April 12, 2019
Newark, Delaware

PIRE fellows Jaclyn Yuro and Fatemeh Abdollahi present at the 2019 Linguistic Cognitive Science Student Conference at the University of Delaware.

Citation: Yuro, J., Abdollahi, F., Unsworth, S., & Van Hell, J. G. (2019). L1 and L2 phonetic interaction in classroom L2 learners: A developmental perspective. Poster presented at the 2019 Linguistics and Cognitive Science Student Conference. University of Delaware, April 12.

June 26, 2019

PIRE core-faculty Rena Torres Cacoullos presents at the International Conference of Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE).

A long-standing issue in bilingualism research is the interaction between speakers’ linguistic systems, most clearly evidenced in contexts of code-switching. Here, we propose to use priming as a measure of degree of association between bilinguals’ two grammars, appealing to constructions as units of grammar.

Structural priming, whereby the use of one variant favors subsequent use of that same variant over alternatives, is a robust factor in language-internal variation and also applies across languages (cf., Gries & Kootstra 2017). In language-internal variation, priming can be used to assess the relationships between constructions. For example, working (vs. workin’) is primed by kicking but not by morning (Tamminga 2016). In a seeming parallel, priming across languages has been taken to support the conjecture that bilinguals have a “shared syntax”, in which parallel grammatical structures “are represented once” (Hartsuiker et al. 2004: 409).

To examine this, we turn to the spontaneous speech of a bilingual community in northern New Mexico, USA, where multi-word code-switches are copious. Comparisons with monolingual English and Spanish benchmarks on a range of linguistic variables indicate maintenance of distinct grammars in this language contact situation (e.g., word order (Benevento & Dietrich 2015), mood choice (LaCasse 2018), complementizer use (Steuck & Torres Cacoullos To Appear)). For variable subject expression as well, these bilingual speakers maintain the same probabilistic constraints as speakers of monolingual varieties, such as accessibility, verb class and person effects. Of most interest here is coreferential subject priming, the tendency to repeat the form (pronoun vs. unexpressed) of the previous mention of the same subject. Notably, coreferential subject priming occurs both within Spanish and across languages, such that, in code-switching, English pronouns prime Spanish pronouns (1). This cross-language priming provides evidence that Spanish and English pronouns are associated for these bilingual speakers.


I was a statistician.

yo fui a todos los basketball games.

but I did all the stats.

I was a statistician.

I went to all the basketball games.

but I did all the stats.’

However, we also observe differential priming. Within Spanish, cognition verb constructions (e.g., (yo) creo ‘(I) think’) are less susceptible to coreferential subject priming than other [(pronoun) + verb] instances, evidence of autonomy from the more general construction (Bybee 2010). Similarly, the priming effect from English to Spanish is weaker than that from Spanish to Spanish. The differential strength of within- vs. cross-language priming serves as a gauge of the associations between the structures of the two languages in contact, suggesting a weaker association between Spanish [(pronoun) + verb] and English [(pronoun) + verb] constructions than between two instances that share the same language. This in turn suggests that the two grammars in contact are interconnected, but not conflated, highlighting the possibility for the maintenance of distinct grammars: while variant forms are primed across languages in contact, their linguistic conditioning remains intact.

Citation: Travis, C. E.  & Torres Cacoullos, R.  (2019, June). Bilingual interconnections: Priming as a measure of strength of associations. In International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE) 10. Presentation conducted at Fryske Akademy, Leeuwarden/Ljouwert, Netherlands.

January 3, 2019
New York, NY

PIRE fellow Alex McAllister presents at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society.

We explored how familiarity with reliable indicators of L1 dialect differences shapes what listeners learn from variation in similar sounds in the L2. To do this, Dutch-English bilinguals were presented with two artificial English dialects, created by manipulating two target vowels: /ɛ/, which exhibits regional variation in Dutch, and /ɪ/, which does not. Results of an auditory go/no-go task showed that listeners were more successful at learning to distinguish two dialects when trained on a vowel (/ɛ/) that varies systematically in the L1. Knowledge of L1 variation thus appears to shape adaptation to unfamiliar L2 variation.

Citation: McAllister, A., Carlson, M. T. & McQueen, J. M. (2019, January). Using knowledge of L1 dialects to adapt to phonetic variation in an L2. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, New York, NY.

June 27, 2019
Edmonton, Canada

PIRE fellow Christianna Otto presents at the 12th International Symposium on Bilingualism.

Differences in how languages map acoustic space onto phonetic categories present challenges in second language (L2) learning, but those challenges are exacerbated by phonetic variation within the L2 (e.g. regional or social lects). In this study, we asked what happens when L2 listeners encounter native speakers whose speech exhibits unfamiliar features. Listeners adapt easily to such features in their native language, a process known as perceptual learning, but the evidence suggests that they often attribute those features to talker-specific idiosyncrasies. This may also be the case in L2 listening, but since L2 users are more likely to encounter unfamiliar lects shared by many talkers, they might be more open to the possibility that a second talker would share the same features.

We explored this hypothesis by presenting proficient, late Dutch-English bilinguals, residing in the Netherlands, with English speech exhibiting a vowel merger and a consonant merger. // and // were merged, either in favor of [] (e.g. pitcher  p[]tcher) or [] (e.g. ketchup  k[]tchup), counterbalanced across participants, and /s/ and /f/ were merged, either in favor of [s] (perfect  per[s]ect) or [f] (mustard  mu[f]tard). Participants were familiarized with the novel lects via sentences produced by a single talker. Learning was then assessed via a cross-modal priming task in which participants made lexical decisions on visual targets preceded by matching or mismatching auditory words (with or without the merged phonemes). Words exhibiting the mergers initially produced weaker priming, which strengthened throughout the task, demonstrating learning of the unfamiliar variation. The speech of a second talker, exhibiting the same mergers, was then introduced in a second cross-modal priming task. Words with the merger immediately yielded strong priming, suggesting that listeners had formed the expectation that the second talker’s speech would exhibit the same features.

Citation: Carlson, M. T., Otto, C., Schuhmann, K., & McQueen, J. M. (2019, June). Cross-talker perceptual learning in a second language. Paper presented at the 12th International Symposium on Bilingualism, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

November 15, 2019
Montreal, Canada

PIRE fellow Carly Danielson presents at the 60th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society.

Research shows that native-accented speech is easier to comprehend than foreign-accented speech. Most studies presented speech in isolation. We examined how faces cuing the speaker’s ethnicity create expectations about upcoming speech, and how this impacts the comprehension of American- and Chinese-accented English. Caucasian American monolinguals listened to American-accented and Chinese-accented sentences, preceded by a picture of an Asian face or a Caucasian face, yielding two congruent face-accent conditions (Caucasian face/American accent; Asian face/Chinese accent) and two incongruent face-accent conditions (Asian face/American-accent; Caucasian face/Chinese-accent). Immediately after hearing the sentence, listeners transcribed the sentence. For American-accented sentences, transcription accuracy was lower when preceded by an Asian face than by a Caucasian face. For Chinese-accented sentences, transcription accuracy did not differ for Caucasian and Asian faces. This indicates that faces cuing ethnicity only trick our ears in native- accented,  but  not  in  foreign-accented  speech.  Results  will  be discussed in terms of reverse linguistic stereotyping and accent-driven asymmetries in face-accent processing.

Citation: Danielson, C., Fernandez, C. B., & Van Hell, J. G. (2019). Faces can trick your ears: Speaker identity affects native-accented but not foreign-accented speech. Poster presented at the 60th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Montreal, Canada, November 14-17.