Adaptation to Novel Accents: Feature-Based Learning of Context-Sensitive Phonological Regularities

Cognitive Science 35 (2):348-366 (2011)
This paper examines whether adults can adapt to novel accents of their native language that contain unfamiliar context-dependent phonological alternations. In two experiments, French participants listen to short stories read in accented speech. Their knowledge of the accents is then tested in a forced-choice identification task. In Experiment 1, two groups of listeners are exposed to newly created French accents in which certain vowels harmonize or disharmonize, respectively, to the rounding of the preceding vowel. Despite the cross-linguistic predominance of vowel harmony over disharmony, the two groups adapt equally well to both accents, suggesting that this typological difference is not reflected in perceptual learning. Experiment 2 further explores the mechanism underlying this type of phonological learning. Participants are exposed to an accent in which some vowels harmonize and others disharmonize, yielding an increased featural complexity. They adapt less well to this regularity, showing that adaptation to novel accents involves feature-based inferences
Keywords Phonological learning  Features  Accents  Speech perception  Dialects
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DOI 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2010.01152.x
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