Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Generalization to Unfamiliar Talkers in Artificial Language Learning

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Generalization to Unfamiliar Talkers in Artificial Language Learning

Article excerpt

Published online: 28 February 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract While there is evidence that talker-specific details are encoded in the phonetics of the lexicon (Kraljic, Samuel, & Brennan, Psychological Science 19(4):332-228, 2008; Logan, Lively, & Pisoni, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 89(2):874-886, 1991) and in sentence process- ing (Nygaard & Pisoni, Perception & Psychophysics, 60(3) :355-376, 1998), it is unclear whether categorical linguistic patterns are also represented in terms of talker-specific de- tails. The present study provides evidence that adult learners form talker-independent representations for productive lin- guistic patterns. Participants were able to generalize a novel linguistic pattern to unfamiliar talkers. Learners were ex- posed to spoken words that conformed to a pattern in which vowels of a word agreed in place of articulation, referred to as vowel harmony. All items were presented in the voice of one single talker. Participants were tested on items that included both the familiar talker and an unfamiliar talker. Participants generalized the pattern to novel talkers when the talkers spoke with a familiar accent (Experiment 1), as well as with an unfamiliar accent (Experiment 2). Learners showed a small advantage for talker familiarity when the words were familiar, but not when the words were novel. These results are consistent with a theory of language pro- cessing in which the lexicon stores fine-grained, talker- specific phonetic details, but productive linguistic processes are subject to abstract, talker-independent representations.

Keywords Artificial grammar learning · Phonology · Psycholinguistics

Language use involves knowledge of highly specific pho- netic details, as well the ability to generalize to novel situations, raising the issue of the extent to which knowl- edge of language relies on abstract rales versus fine-grained details. Knowledge of a specific language is general; a language user can understand almost any speaker of the language, despite the fact that every speaker has individual, idiosyncratic characteristics. Thus, the language user must be able to distinguish between speech characteristics that are idiosyncratic to the talker and speech characteristics that are shared across the language. Studying how speakers deal with unfamiliar talkers in language learning tasks can help to uncover which aspects of language processing make use of talker-specific information and which aspects of language take place at a talker-independent level of representation.

Previous research exploring the role of talker-specific effects of language processing has focused on lexical access and phonetic patterns, with little discussion of productive, categorical linguistic patterns. This article focuses on pro- ductive phonological patterns: systematic changes in the sounds that make up a word. For example, vowel harmony is a phonological pattern that can be found in several of the world's languages but is not found in English. With some exceptions, Hungarian shows alternations in suffix vowels depending on the quality of the stem vowels.1 For example, the singular (dative) suffix alternates between [-nek] and [-nak], depending on the quality of the stem vowel. When the stem contains vowels pronounced in the back of the oral cavity, such as /a/ and loi, [-nak] appears (e.g., [hajo-nak] 'ship'). When the stem contains vowels produced in the front of the oral cavity, such as Ν and /e/, [-nek] appears (e.g., [öleles-nek] 'embracement').

In Hungarian, the formation of morphologically complex words is dependent on vowel harmony, demonstrating the interaction between phonological patterns and the lexicon. This interaction has led some researchers to propose the possibility of reducing the study of productive phonological patterns to tendencies over the lexicon (Port & Leary, 2005). Exemplar models of cognition (Goldinger, 1996, 1998; Nosofsky, 1988) serve as the basis for many of these proposals (Connine & Pinnow, 2006; Johnson, 1997; Palmeri, Goldinger, & Pisoni, 1993; Pierrehumbert, 2001; Wedel, 2006). …

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