Phonetic imitation is the unintentional, spontaneous acquisition of speech characteristics of another talker. Previous work has shown that imitation is strongly moderated by social preference in adults, and that social preference affects children's speech acquisition within peer groups. Such findings have led to the suggestion that phonetic imitation is related to larger processes of sound change in a change-by-accommodation model. This study examines how preferential processing of particular voice types affects spontaneous phonetic accommodation, interpreting the results in the context of how sound change can be propagated through a speech community. To explore this question eight model talkers previously rated as attractive, unattractive, typical, and atypical for each gender were used in an auditory naming paradigm. Twenty participants completed the task, and an AXB measure was used to quantify imitation. Female participants imitated more than male participants, but this varied across model voices. Females were found to rely more on social preference than men, while both groups imitated the atypical voices. The results suggest that females adapt their speech to auditory input more readily, but the nature of the accommodation does not qualify as direct evidence for a change-by-accommodation model given the constrained context of the task.
©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston