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Less detailed representation of non-native language: Why non-native speakers’ stories seem more vague

Lev-Ari, S., & Keysar, B. (2012). Less detailed representation of non-native language: Why non-native speakers’ stories seem more vague. Discourse Processes, 49(7), 523-538. doi:10.1080/0163853X.2012.698493.
The language of non-native speakers is less reliable than the language of native speakers in conveying the speaker’s intentions. We propose that listeners expect such reduced reliability and that this leads them to adjust the manner in which they process and represent non-native language by representing non-native language in less detail. Experiment 1 shows that when people listen to a story, they are less able to detect a word change with a non-native than with a native speaker. This suggests they represent the language of a non-native speaker with fewer details. Experiment 2 shows that, above a certain threshold, the higher participants’ working memory is, the less they are able to detect the change with a non-native speaker. This suggests that adjustment to non-native speakers depends on working memory. This research has implications for the role of interpersonal expectations in the way people process language.
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