Lost in Pronunciation
: How Listeners’ Navigate through a Non-native Accent

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

This thesis studies the perceptual changes experienced by native listeners when exposed to non-native speakers.
I first consider a scenario where native listeners encounter a non-native speaker for the first time, progressively adapting to their accent. In Experiments 1 and 2 I investigated whether listeners adapt to a non-native accent specifically at the sublexical level, and whether sentential and lexical cues impact adaptation. Using sentences as exposure material, Experiments 1 and 2 revealed that adapting to a non-native accent involves increasing perceptual changes at the sublexical level which, in some cases, can benefit from lexical cues but not from sentential cues. Experiment 3 used electroencephalography (EEG), namely Fast Auditory Periodic Stimulation paradigm, to study whether adaptation alters an automatic perception of non-native accented sounds. We successfully replicated the adaptation results from Experiments 1 and 2 and found that these perceptual shifts can lead to changes in how listeners automatically perceive non-native accented sounds.
In Experiment 4, I examined the formation of an accent representation by exposing listeners to multiple speakers of unknown accents. Each listener was trained on two different non-native accents; their accent and speaker recognition was subsequently assessed using speakers introduced during training (old speakers) and unfamiliar speakers of the same accent (new speakers). The results of Experiment 4 make it possible to follow how quickly an accent representation develops during training and how it is generalised to new speakers of the trained accent.
In sum, the experiments reported in the thesis demonstrate that listeners undergo perceptual changes as a result of exposure to a non-native accent, enhancing non-native accent comprehension and recognition. This serves as a compelling example of listeners' capacity to form adaptable and abstract perceptual representations.
Date of Award7 May 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SponsorsAgencia Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo
SupervisorAlex M C Anderson (Supervisor) & Nina Kazanina (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Non-native Accent
  • Perceptual Learning
  • Speech Perception
  • Accent Adaptation
  • Accent Recognition
  • Phonetic Tuning

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