Learning individual talkers' structural preferences

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    75 Citations (Scopus)


    Listeners are often capable of adjusting to the variability contained in individual talkers' (speakers') speech. The vast majority of findings on talker adaptation are concerned with learning the contingency between phonological characteristics and talker identity. In contrast, the present study investigates representations at a more abstract level - the contingency between syntactic attachment style and talker identity. In a 'visual-world' experiment, participants were exposed to semi-realistic scenes depicting several objects (e.g., an adult man, a young girl, a motorbike, a carousel, and other objects) accompanied by a spoken sentence with a structurally ambiguous relative clause (e.g., 'The uncle of the girl who will ride the motorbike/carousel is from France.' In the context of the scene, 'motorbike' suggested the uncle as the agent of the riding, whereas 'carousel' suggested the girl as the agent). For half the experimental items, one version of the sentence was read by one talker, who always uttered sentences that resolved, pragmatically, to the high attachment (the uncle as the agent), and the other by another talker, who always uttered sentences resolving to the low attachment (the girl as the agent). For the other half of the experimental items, both versions were read by a third talker who produced both high and low attachments. It was found that, after exposure to these stimuli, and for new sentences not heard previously, participants learnt to anticipate the 'appropriate' attachment depending on talker identity (with no attachment preference for the talker who produced both attachment types). The data suggest that listeners can learn the relationship between talker identity and abstract, structural, properties of their speech, and that syntactic attachment decisions in comprehension can reflect sensitivity to talker-specific syntactic style.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)66-71
    Number of pages6
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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