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How the demographic make-up of our community influences speech perception

Lev-Ari, S., & Peperkamp, S. (2016). How the demographic make-up of our community influences speech perception. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 139(6), 3076-3087. doi:10.1121/1.4950811.
Speech perception is known to be influenced by listeners’ expectations of the speaker. This paper tests whether the demographic makeup of individuals’ communities can influence their perception of foreign sounds by influencing their expectations of the language. Using online experiments with participants from all across the U.S. and matched census data on the proportion of Spanish and other foreign language speakers in participants’ communities, this paper shows that the demo- graphic makeup of individuals’ communities influences their expectations of foreign languages to have an alveolar trill versus a tap (Experiment 1), as well as their consequent perception of these sounds (Experiment 2). Thus, the paper shows that while individuals’ expectations of foreign lan- guage to have a trill occasionally lead them to misperceive a tap in a foreign language as a trill, a higher proportion of non-trill language speakers in one’s community decreases this likelihood. These results show that individuals’ environment can influence their perception by shaping their linguistic expectations
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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.

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