CLS Speaker Series - Katharina Schuhmann (Penn State University) Perceptual Learning Within and Across Languages
Perceptual Learning Within and Across Languages
Mounting evidence suggests that adult listeners readily fine-tune their speech perception in their native language (L1) to accommodate novel accents or atypical pronunciations. The general process of perceptual learning, whereby non-canonical speech leads to a change in the listeners’ phoneme category boundary, has been well established in laboratory studies of native listeners (Norris et al. 2003, McQueen et al. 2006, Kraljic & Samuel 2005, 2006, inter alia). In this talk, I examine how non-native (L2) and bilingual listeners of different proficiency levels handle phonetic variability in their speech input. The results of several studies involving novice and advanced L1 English–L2 German listeners (in the US) and advanced L1 German–L2 English listeners (in Germany) show that perceptual learning can generalize across languages. In particular, phonetic variability in English can affect perception of the L1 and the L2 for both native English listeners and native German listeners. Perceptual learning in the native language further generalizes to related phoneme contrasts within and across languages. Perceptual learning in a non-native language, on the other hand, appears to be specific to the trained phoneme contrast and does not generalize to other phoneme contrasts with shared phonological features. Additionally, cross-linguistic generalization effects are modulated by the listeners’ L2 language proficiency and L2 use. The aforementioned complex pattern of cross-linguistic perceptual learning in L1 English–L2 German and L1 German–L2 English listeners suggests that the grammatical representations of the tested phonemic contrasts in English and German are not independent for bilingual listeners. These findings have interesting implications for models of knowledge of sound and speech processing. Consequences for mental representations and directions for future research will be discussed.