Phonetic realizations vary depending on social characteristics of the speaker, and recent research provides evidence that individuals are sensitive to at least some of these sociophonetic relationships during perception (Strand and Johnson, Gradient and visual speaker normalization in the perception of fricatives, Mouton, 1996; Hay et al., Journal of Phonetics 34: 458–484, 2006). In addition to socially-conditioned variation, there is evidence that phonetic realizations in production vary depending on the grammatical function of a word (Plug, Phonetic reduction and categorisation in exemplar-based representation:Observations on a Dutch discourse marker, 2005; Hay and Bresnan, The Linguistic Review 23: 321–349, 2006), yet it is not known whether listeners can actively exploit this phonetic variation in speech perception. This paper reports on three perception experiments conducted to determine whether perceivers' sensitivity to fine phonetic detail can assist in extraction of both grammatical and social meaning from the signal.
Previous research has shown that speech perception can be influenced by a speaker's social characteristics, including the expected dialect area of the speaker (Niedzielski, Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18: 62–85, 1999; Hay et al. The Linguistic Review 23: 351–379, 2006a). This article reports on an experiment designed to test to degree to which exposure to the concept of a region can also influence perception. In order to invoke the concept, we exposed participants, who were all speakers of New Zealand English, to either stuffed toy kangaroos and koalas (associated with Australia) or stuffed toy kiwis (associated with New Zealand). Participants then completed a perception task in which they matched natural vowels produced by a male New Zealander to vowels from a synthesized continuum which ranged from raised and fronted Australian-like tokens to lowered and centralized New Zealand-like tokens. Our results indicate that perception of the vowels shifted depending on which set of toys the participants had seen. This supports models of speech perception in which linguistic and nonlinguistic information are intricately entwined.
Niedzielski (1999) reports on an experiment which demonstrates that individuals in Detroit ‘hear’ more Canadian Raising in the speech of a speaker when they think that speaker is Canadian. We describe an experiment designed to follow up on this result in a New Zealand context. Participants listened to a New Zealand English (NZE) speaker reading a list of sentences. Each sentence appeared on the answer-sheet, with a target word underlined. For each sentence, participants were asked to select from a synthesized vowel continuum the token that best matched the target vowel produced by the speaker. Half the participants had an answer-sheet with the word ‘Australian’ written on it, and half had an answer-sheet with ‘New Zealander’ written on it. Participants in the two conditions behaved significantly differently from one another. For example, they were more likely to hear a higher fronter /i/ vowel when ‘Australian’ appeared on the answer sheet, and more likely to hear a centralized version when ‘New Zealander’ appeared – a trend which reflects production differences between the two dialects. This is despite the fact that nearly all participants reported that they knew they were listening to a New Zealander. We discuss the implication of these results, and argue that they support exemplar models of speech perception.
This paper presents results from an experiment designed to test whether New Zealand listeners’ perceptual adaptation towards Australian English is mediated by their attitudes toward Australia, which we attempted to manipulate experimentally. Participants were put into one of three conditions, where they either read good facts about Australia, bad facts about Australia, or no facts about Australia (the control). Participants performed the same listening task – matching the vowel in a sentence to a vowel in a synthesized continuum – before and after reading the facts. The results indicate that participants who read the bad facts shifted their perception of kit to more Australian-like tokens relative to the control group, while the participants who read good facts shifted their perception of kit to more NZ-like tokens relative to the control group. This result shows that perceptual adaptation towards a dialect can occur in the absence of a speaker of that dialect and that these adaptations are subject to a listener’s (manipulated) affect towards the primed dialect region.