This study assessed the ability of Southern listeners to accommodate extensive talker variability in identifying vowels in their local Appalachian community in the context of sound change. Building on prior work, the current experiment targeted a subset of spectrally overlapping vowels in local and two non-local varieties to establish whether adult and child listeners will demonstrate the local dialect advantage. Listeners responded to isolated target words, which minimized the interaction of multiple linguistic and dialect-specific features. For most vowel categories, the local dialect advantage was not demonstrated. However, adult listeners showed sensitivity to generational changes, indicating their familiarity with the local norms. A differential response pattern in children suggests that children perceived the vowels through the lens of their own experience with vowel production, representing a sound change in the community. Compared with the adults, children also relied more on stress cues, with increased confusions when the vowels were unstressed. The study provides evidence that identification accuracy is dependent upon the robustness of cues in individual vowel categories—whether local or non-local—and suggests that the bottom-up processes underlying phonetic vowel categorization in isolated monosyllables can interact with the top-down processing of dialect- and talker-specific information.
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January 31 2020
Perception of local and non-local vowels by adults and children in the South
Special Collection: English in the Southern United States: Social Factors and Language Variation
Ewa Jacewicz, Robert Allen Fox; Perception of local and non-local vowels by adults and children in the South. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 1 January 2020; 147 (1): 627–642. https://doi.org/10.1121/10.0000542
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