Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Linguistics

Advisor

Gita Martohardjono

Subject Categories

Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics

Keywords

speech perception, foreign accent, bilinguals, SNR

Abstract

The act of listening to a linguistic signal is an involved process, and, rarely occurs in absolute silence. A person trying to listen and comprehend speech is likely in an environment that has some sort of additional noise: white noise from a fan, passing traffic, construction, or just other talkers. Each of these additional auditory signals creates an unfavorable environment for the listener who is trying to capture the target signal. Research has been able to quantify and describe the effects of noise on the comprehension of linguistic signals, and has also shown that that bilinguals and monolinguals — though their performance is indistinguishable in quiet conditions — are known to be differentially affected by noise: bilinguals perform significantly worse in adverse listening conditions when tasked with comprehend a linguistic signal. What is yet to be established is how a signal with intrinsic, phonological variation differentially affects monolinguals and bilinguals.

This study is a small-scale pilot that investigates this question: what bearing does bilingualism have on the comprehension of foreign-accented speech in quiet and in noise? Stimuli include sentences spoken in English, with five different accents: Neutral English (the English typical of the NYC area), Latin American Spanish English, Mandarin English, Italian English, and Indian English. A true-false verification task is used to assess the participants’ comprehension of the sentences, which are auditorily delivered such that no two sentences with the same accent are heard consecutively. All five accents are heard in both quiet and in noise, in two separate blocks. Accuracy and reaction times are analyzed.

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