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Constraints on the transfer of perceptual learning in accented speech

Eisner, F., Melinger, A., & Weber, A. (2013). Constraints on the transfer of perceptual learning in accented speech. Frontiers in Psychology, 4: 148. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00148.
The perception of speech sounds can be re-tuned rapidly through a mechanism of lexically-driven learning (Norris et al 2003, Cogn.Psych. 47). Here we investigated this type of learning for English voiced stop consonants which are commonly de-voiced in word final position by Dutch learners of English . Specifically, this study asked under which conditions the change in pre-lexical representation encodes phonological information about the position of the critical sound within a word. After exposure to a Dutch learner’s productions of de-voiced stops in word-final position (but not in any other positions), British English listeners showed evidence of perceptual learning in a subsequent cross-modal priming task, where auditory primes with voiceless final stops (e.g., ‘seat’), facilitated recognition of visual targets with voiced final stops (e.g., SEED). This learning generalized to test pairs where the critical contrast was in word-initial position, e.g. auditory primes such as ‘town’ facilitated recognition of visual targets like DOWN (Experiment 1). Control listeners, who had not heard any stops by the speaker during exposure, showed no learning effects. The generalization to word-initial position did not occur when participants had also heard correctly voiced, word-initial stops during exposure (Experiment 2), and when the speaker was a native BE speaker who mimicked the word-final devoicing (Experiment 3). These results suggest that word position can be encoded in the pre-lexical adjustment to the accented phoneme contrast. Lexcially-guided feedback, distributional properties of the input, and long-term representations of accents all appear to modulate the pre-lexical re-tuning of phoneme categories.
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