Listener evaluation of sociophonetic variability: Probing constraints and capabilities
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This paper reports the results of an experimental study designed to investigate how listeners learn to create new associations between phonetic properties of the speech signal and external social referents. Very little is known of how this learning takes place in children, and it is a particularly challenging area to study given the difficulty in controlling some of the variables which are likely to be important factors in children's learning of the productive and interpretative dimensions of social-indexical phonetic variation. Thus, in this study, we focus on adult listeners in order to develop a sense of how adults might approach this learning task, and also to test out a method for probing this form of learning in a controlled fashion. 49 participants were trained on new patterns of social-indexical variability and, in a subsequent test phase, we assessed the extent to which this training led the listeners to acquire new associations between specific realizational variants and the social categories with which they have been associated in the training material. Results are reported from four experimental conditions which provided listeners with a range of different learning tasks. Our findings suggest that learning of novel sociophonetic associations can be achieved as the result of a relatively short amount of exposure to training material incorporating the new association, but that the success with which learning takes place is dependent on a number of factors such as the nature of the criterial variable and individual learner variation.
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Language in Culture and Society (Sociolinguistics)