Katja Poellmann defends PhD on December 12
December 11, 2013
In everyday conversations, speakers often do not articulate carefully what they are saying so that listeners can easily understand them. Instead, they slur sounds or even omit them entirely. For instance, a Dutch speaker might say “manaan” instead of “banaan” or “P’rijs” instead of “Parijs”. Nevertheless, listeners seem to understand these reduced words without any difficulty.
How to understand a slurring speaker
Poellmann's thesis 'The many ways listeners adapt to reductions in casual speech' investigated how listeners manage to understand reduced speech and tested whether reduced words are easier to understand if they are repeated (in the experiment participants heard the same reduced word twice). "That proved to be the case, but only if the reduction was salient enough, that is, if it deviated considerably from the full pronunciation as in "P'rijs" versus "Parijs"," says Katja Poellmann, PhD at MPI's Language Comprehension Department.
If the reduction process was regular, she continues, listeners were able to transfer their knowledge to reduced words that they had not heard before. But if the reduction process was rather irregular, listeners could adjust their perception flexibly in a very general way. "Listeners have many ways at their disposal to adapt to reduced speech. Interestingly, they could only adapt if they were at least somewhat familiar with the reduction type."
Consistent or not
Her results show that abstraction processes are involved in recognising words when they are reduced in a consistent way. "When words are reduced rather inconsistently, listeners probably just store them as such in their mental lexicon."