Plasticity in speech perception and production : a study of accent change in young adults
This thesis presents the results of two studies that investigated how listeners adapt to different regional accents within the same language. Study 1 investigated whether listeners adjusted their vowel categorization decisions when listening to speech produced in different accents of British English. The results demonstrated that some listeners chose different vowels according to the accent of the carrier sentence. The patterns of adjustment were affected by individual differences in language background (i.e., the degree of experience that an individual has had living in multidialectal environments, and whether the individual grew up in the north or south of England), and corresponded to changes in production that speakers make as a result of sociolinguistic factors when living in a multidialectal environment. Study 2 investigated plasticity in speech production and perception among university students, as individuals change their accent from regional to "educated" norms. Subjects were tested before beginning university, 3 months later and on completion of their first year of study. At each stage they were recorded reading a set of test words and a short passage. They also completed two perceptual tasks they found best exemplar locations for vowels embedded in carrier sentences and identified words in noise. The results demonstrated that subjects changed their spoken accent after attending university. The changes were linked to sociolinguistic factors subjects who were highly motivated to fit in with their university community changed their accent more. There was some evidence for a link between production and perception between-subject differences in production and perception were correlated. However, this relationship was weaker for within-subject changes in accent over time.