Language Ability and the Familiar Talker Advantage: Generalizing to Unfamiliar Talkers Is What Matters.
ABSTRACT: Purpose Previous studies with children and adults have demonstrated a familiar talker advantage-better word recognition for familiar talkers. The goal of the current study was to test whether this phenomenon is modulated by a child's language ability. Method Sixty children with a range of language ability were trained to learn the voices of 3 foreign-accented, German-English bilingual talkers and received feedback about their performance. Both before and after this talker voice training, children completed a spoken word recognition task in which they heard consonant-vowel-consonant words mixed with noise that were spoken by the 3 familiarized talkers and by 3 unfamiliar German-English bilinguals. Results Two findings emerged from this study: First, children with both higher and lower language ability performed similarly on the familiarized talkers. Second, children with higher language scores performed similarly on both the familiarized and unfamiliar talkers, whereas children with lower language scores performed worse on the unfamiliar talkers compared to familiar talkers, suggesting an inability to generalize to novel, unfamiliar talkers who spoke with a similar accent. Discussion Together, these findings indicate that children with higher language scores are able to generalize knowledge about foreign-accented talkers to help spoken word recognition for novel talkers with the same accent. In contrast, children with lower language skills did not exhibit the same magnitude of generalization. This lack of generalization to similar talkers may mean that children with lower language skills are at a disadvantage in spoken language tasks because they are unable to process speech as well when listening to unfamiliar talkers.
Project description:Listeners identify talkers more accurately when listening to their native language compared to an unfamiliar, foreign language. This language-familiarity effect in talker identification has been shown to arise from familiarity with both the sound patterns (phonetics and phonology) and the linguistic content (words) of one's native language. However, it has been unknown whether these two sources of information contribute independently to talker identification abilities, particularly whether hearing familiar words can facilitate talker identification in the absence of familiar phonetics. To isolate the contribution of lexical familiarity, we conducted three experiments that tested listeners' ability to identify talkers saying familiar words, but with unfamiliar phonetics. In two experiments, listeners identified talkers from recordings of their native language (English), an unfamiliar foreign language (Mandarin Chinese), or "hybrid" speech stimuli (sentences spoken in Mandarin, but which can be convincingly coerced to sound like English when presented with subtitles that prime plausible English-language lexical interpretations based on the Mandarin phonetics). In a third experiment, we explored natural variation in lexical-phonetic congruence as listeners identified talkers with varying degrees of a Mandarin accent. Priming listeners to hear English speech did not improve their ability to identify talkers speaking Mandarin, even after additional training, and talker identification accuracy decreased as talkers' phonetics became increasingly dissimilar to American English. Together, these experiments indicate that unfamiliar sound patterns preclude talker identification benefits otherwise afforded by familiar words. These results suggest that linguistic representations contribute hierarchically to talker identification; the facilitatory effect of familiar words requires the availability of familiar phonological forms.
Project description:In spoken word identification and memory tasks, stimulus variability from numerous sources impairs performance. In the current study, the influence of foreign-accent variability on spoken word identification was evaluated in two experiments. Experiment 1 used a between-subjects design to test word identification in noise in single-talker and two multiple-talker conditions: multiple talkers with the same accent and multiple talkers with different accents. Identification performance was highest in the single-talker condition, but there was no difference between the single-accent and multiple-accent conditions. Experiment 2 further explored word recognition for multiple talkers in single-accent versus multiple-accent conditions using a mixed design. A detriment to word recognition was observed in the multiple-accent condition compared to the single-accent condition, but the effect differed across the language backgrounds tested. These results demonstrate that the processing of foreign-accent variation may influence word recognition in ways similar to other sources of variability (e.g., speaking rate or style) in that the inclusion of multiple foreign accents can result in a small but significant performance decrement beyond the multiple-talker effect.
Project description:Foreign-accented speech can be difficult to understand but listeners can adapt to novel talkers and accents with appropriate experience. Previous studies have demonstrated talker-independent but accent-dependent learning after training on multiple talkers from a single language background. Here, listeners instead were exposed to talkers from five language backgrounds during training. After training, listeners generalized their learning to novel talkers from language backgrounds both included and not included in the training set. These findings suggest that generalization of foreign-accent adaptation is the result of exposure to systematic variability in accented speech that is similar across talkers from multiple language backgrounds.
Project description:Purpose Older native speakers of English have difficulty in understanding Spanish-accented English compared to younger native English speakers. However, it is unclear if this age effect would be observed among native speakers of Spanish. The current study investigates the effects of age and native language experience with Spanish on the ability to recognize words spoken in English by Spanish-accented and unaccented talkers. Method English monosyllabic words, recorded by native speakers of English and Spanish, were presented to 4 groups of listeners with normal hearing: younger native Spanish listeners ( n = 15), older native Spanish listeners ( n = 16), younger native English listeners ( n = 15), and older native English listeners ( n = 15). Speech recognition accuracy was assessed for the unaccented and accented words in both quiet and noise. Results In all conditions, the native English listeners performed better than the native Spanish listeners. More specifically, the native speakers of Spanish consistently recognized accented English less accurately than the native speakers of English, demonstrating no advantage of shared native language experience between nonnative listeners and accented talkers. Older listeners in the native Spanish language group also performed less accurately than their younger counterparts, for English words spoken by both unaccented and accented talkers. Finally, whereas listeners who were native speakers of English showed marked declines in recognition of Spanish-accented English relative to unaccented English, listeners who were native speakers of Spanish (both younger and older) showed less decline. Conclusions The general pattern of results suggests that both native language experience in a language other than English and age limit the ability to recognize Spanish-accented English. The implication of the overall findings is that older nonnative listeners will have considerable difficulty in understanding English, regardless of the talker's accent, in both clinical and everyday listening situations.
Project description:Foreign accent in speech often presents listeners with challenging listening conditions. Consequently, listeners may need to draw on additional cognitive resources in order to perceive and comprehend such speech. Previous research has shown that, for older adults, executive functions predicted perception of speech material spoken in a novel, artificially created (and therefore unfamiliar) accent. The present study investigates the influences of executive functions, information processing speed, and working memory on perception of unfamiliar foreign accented speech, in healthy young adults. The results showed that the executive processes of inhibition and switching, as well as information processing speed predict response times to both accented and standard sentence stimuli, while inhibition and information processing speed predict speed of responding to accented word stimuli. Inhibition and switching further predict accuracy in responding to accented word and standard sentence stimuli that has increased processing demand (i.e., nonwords and sentences with unexpected semantic content). These findings suggest that stronger abilities in aspects of cognitive functioning may be helpful for matching variable pronunciations of speech sounds to stored representations, for example by being able to manage the activation of incorrect competing representations and shifting to other possible matches.
Project description:Traditionally, much of the attention on the communicative effects of non-native accent has focused on the accent itself rather than how it functions within a more natural context. The present study explores how the bodily context of co-speech emblematic gestures affects perceptual and social evaluation of non-native accent. In two experiments in two different languages, Mandarin and Japanese, we filmed learners performing a short utterance in three different within-subjects conditions: speech alone, culturally familiar gesture, and culturally unfamiliar gesture. Native Mandarin participants watched videos of foreign-accented Mandarin speakers (Experiment 1), and native Japanese participants watched videos of foreign-accented Japanese speakers (Experiment 2). Following each video, native language participants were asked a set of questions targeting speech perception and social impressions of the learners. Results from both experiments demonstrate that familiar-and occasionally unfamiliar-emblems facilitated speech perception and enhanced social evaluations compared to the speech alone baseline. The variability in our findings suggests that gesture may serve varied functions in the perception and evaluation of non-native accent.
Project description:Speech carries accent information relevant to determining the speaker's linguistic and social background. A series of web-based experiments demonstrate that accent cues can modulate access to word meaning. In Experiments 1-3, British participants were more likely to retrieve the American dominant meaning (e.g., hat meaning of "bonnet") in a word association task if they heard the words in an American than a British accent. In addition, results from a speeded semantic decision task (Experiment 4) and sentence comprehension task (Experiment 5) confirm that accent modulates on-line meaning retrieval such that comprehension of ambiguous words is easier when the relevant word meaning is dominant in the speaker's dialect. Critically, neutral-accent speech items, created by morphing British- and American-accented recordings, were interpreted in a similar way to accented words when embedded in a context of accented words (Experiment 2). This finding indicates that listeners do not use accent to guide meaning retrieval on a word-by-word basis; instead they use accent information to determine the dialectic identity of a speaker and then use their experience of that dialect to guide meaning access for all words spoken by that person. These results motivate a speaker-model account of spoken word recognition in which comprehenders determine key characteristics of their interlocutor and use this knowledge to guide word meaning access.
Project description:Previous research has shown that familiarity with a talker's voice can improve linguistic processing (herein, "Familiar Talker Advantage"), but this benefit is constrained by the context in which the talker's voice is familiar. The current study examined how familiarity affects intelligibility by manipulating the type of talker information available to listeners. One group of listeners learned to identify bilingual talkers' voices from English words, where they learned language-specific talker information. A second group of listeners learned the same talkers from German words, and thus only learned language-independent talker information. After voice training, both groups of listeners completed a word recognition task with English words produced by both familiar and unfamiliar talkers. Results revealed that English-trained listeners perceived more phonemes correct for familiar than unfamiliar talkers, while German-trained listeners did not show improved intelligibility for familiar talkers. The absence of a processing advantage in speech intelligibility for the German-trained listeners demonstrates limitations on the Familiar Talker Advantage, which crucially depends on the language context in which the talkers' voices were learned; knowledge of how a talker produces linguistically relevant contrasts in a particular language is necessary to increase speech intelligibility for words produced by familiar talkers.
Project description:We studied the initial acquisition and overnight consolidation of new spoken words that resemble words in the native language (L1) or in an unfamiliar, non-native language (L2). Spanish-speaking participants learned the spoken forms of novel words in their native language (Spanish) or in a different language (Hungarian), which were paired with pictures of familiar or unfamiliar objects, or no picture. We thereby assessed, in a factorial way, the impact of existing knowledge (schema) on word learning by manipulating both semantic (familiar vs unfamiliar objects) and phonological (L1- vs L2-like novel words) familiarity. Participants were trained and tested with a 12-hr intervening period that included overnight sleep or daytime awake. Our results showed (1) benefits of sleep to recognition memory that were greater for words with L2-like phonology and (2) that learned associations with familiar but not unfamiliar pictures enhanced recognition memory for novel words. Implications for complementary systems accounts of word learning are discussed.
Project description:Previous studies have shown that listeners are better able to understand speech when they are familiar with the talker's voice. In most of these studies, talker familiarity was ensured by explicit voice training; that is, listeners learned to identify the familiar talkers. In the real world, however, the characteristics of familiar talkers are learned incidentally, through communication. The present study investigated whether speech comprehension benefits from implicit voice training; that is, through exposure to talkers' voices without listeners explicitly trying to identify them. During four training sessions, listeners heard short sentences containing a single verb (e.g., "he writes"), spoken by one talker. The sentences were mixed with noise, and listeners identified the verb within each sentence while their speech-reception thresholds (SRT) were measured. In a final test session, listeners performed the same task, but this time they heard different sentences spoken by the familiar talker and three unfamiliar talkers. Familiar and unfamiliar talkers were counterbalanced across listeners. Half of the listeners performed a test session in which the four talkers were presented in separate blocks (blocked paradigm). For the other half, talkers varied randomly from trial to trial (interleaved paradigm). The results showed that listeners had lower SRT when the speech was produced by the familiar talker than the unfamiliar talkers. The type of talker presentation (blocked vs. interleaved) had no effect on this familiarity benefit. These findings suggest that listeners implicitly learn talker-specific information during a speech-comprehension task, and exploit this information to improve the comprehension of novel speech material from familiar talkers.