Linguistics Department

Colloquium - Kevin McGowan (Rice University) "Social expectation and theories of speech perception."

Mon, March 26, 2012 | UTC 3.134

3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

A growing collection of results in sociophonetic speech perception has shown that listeners make use cues to the social identity of an otherwise unknown speaker when understanding speech. Activating expectations of social category, rather than individual identity, socioindexical expectations have been shown to exert an influence on responses in sentence completion, word recollection, vowel identification, word identification and other tasks (see: Drager 2010).

Generally, these effects are taken to be evidence supporting exemplar theories of speech perception.  This paper investigates the extent to which accurate, neutral, and inaccurate socioindexal cues can enhance listeners' ability to comprehend accented speech in noise.  Listeners also participated in a norming task developed to gauge each individual's experience level with Chinese-accented English.  As predicted by previous socioindexical effects, listeners do, indeed, transcribe more accurately when presented with accurate socioindexical cues.  Contrary to the standard interpretation in these previous studies, however, inexperienced listeners show a benefit equal to that of experienced listeners.

Implications of this finding for exemplar theories of speech  perception are explored alongside alternative theories.

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