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Katja Poellmann defends PhD on December 12

How do listeners understand words that are not carefully articulated in everyday conversations? They have many ways to adapt to reductions in casual speech, Katja Poellmann found during her PhD research. She will defend her thesis on December 12 at 12:30, in the Radboud University Aula.
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."

About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.


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