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Treack or trit: Adaptation to genuine and arbitrary foreign accents by monolingual and bilingual listeners

Weber, A., Di Betta, A. M., & McQueen, J. M. (2014). Treack or trit: Adaptation to genuine and arbitrary foreign accents by monolingual and bilingual listeners. Journal of phonetics, 46, 34-51. doi:10.1016/j.wocn.2014.05.002.
Two cross-modal priming experiments examined two questions about word recognition in foreign-accented speech: Does accent adaptation occur only for genuine accents markers, and does adaptation depend on language experience? We compared recognition of words spoken with canonical, genuinely-accented and arbitrarily-accented vowels. In Experiment 1, an Italian speaker pronounced vowels in English prime words canonically, or by lengthening /ɪ/ as in a genuine Italian accent (*/tri:k/ for trick), or by arbitrarily shortening /i:/ (*/trɪt/ for treat). Lexical-decision times to subsequent visual target words showed different priming effects in three listener groups. Monolingual native English listeners recognized variants with lengthened but not shortened vowels. Bilingual nonnative Italian-English listeners, who could not reliably distinguish vowel length, recognized both variants. Bilingual nonnative Dutch-English listeners also recognized both variants. In Experiment 2, bilingual Dutch-English listeners recognized Dutch words with genuinely- and arbitrarily-accented vowels (spoken by a native Italian with lengthened and shortened vowels respectively), but recognized words with canonical vowels more easily than words with accented vowels. These results suggest that adaptation to genuine accent markers arises for monolingual and bilingual listeners alike and can occur in native and nonnative languages, but that bilinguals can adapt to arbitrary accent markers better than monolinguals.
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