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Research and Education

Conference Talks

November 4, 2021

PIRE fellows Hailey Atiyeh and Jason Giovagnoli present at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Psychonomics Society.

Listeners in a second language can adapt to subtle regional, social, and idiosyncratic phonetic variation. We hypothesize that the ease of this adaptation depends on which abstract phonological representations are available to the listener. Dutch-English bilinguals and L1 English controls identified words spoken by a native English speaker
in a 2AFC task. The words were minimal pairs distinguished by [æ-ɛ]
or [ɛ-ɪ] (e.g., bat-bet, bet-bit). The bat-bet contrast is notoriously difficult for Dutch listeners. For half the listeners this vowel series was artificially moved up in the talker’s vowel space, and for the other half it was moved down, such that half heard a bat-bet contrast that was acoustically the same as the other’s bet-bit. Listeners were familiarized with these artificial accents prior to the 2AFC task. The key finding was that the bilinguals, in contrast to the L1 controls, had substantial difficulty identifying [æ-ɛ] targets when shifted higher in the talker’s vowel space but identified (acoustically equivalent) [ɛ-ɪ] targets easily when shifted down in the vowel space. Thus, the same acoustic information can be easier or harder to adapt to and identify in an L2, depending on which abstract categories are expected.

Citation: Carlson, M. T., Atiyeh, H., Giovagnoli, J., & McQueen, J. M. (2021, November). Bat, bet, or bit? Adapting to idiosyncratic vowels in a second language. Paper presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society.