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Auteur: Anne CUTLER

Native language advantage in dealing with variation

Abstract/Résumé: In spoken-language comprehension, the native language (L1) enjoys many advantages over later-learned languages (L2), with greater resistance to disruption in noisy environments being the most often-reported example. The processing of variation - be it variation (a) across dialects, (b) between talkers, or (c) in pronunciation register - provides multiple instances of such advantage, which will be discussed in this presentation. With respect to dialectal variation, it has been established in many laboratory studies (though, like the effects of background noise, it is a familiar experience to many L2 listeners) that explicit identification of varieties is more accurate in L1 than in L2. Further, however, phonological processes specific to an unfamiliar dialect can cause word recognition difficulties for L2 listeners that are not experienced by L1 listeners even when they may be equally unfamiliar with the processes in question. With respect to inter-talker variation, the forensic speaker identification literature provides extensive evidence that discrimination between individual talkers is likewise more successful in the L1 than in L2. Recent evidence from very young listeners shows that this effect is not due to comprehension ability, but is located at the level of phonological processing. Finally, with respect to register variation, e.g., between casual versus formal speech, adaptation to reduced pronunciation variants in L2 is to a large extent dependent upon whether an equivalent process is applied to generate variants in the L1. These phenomena are all evidence of variation across word forms causing processing problems in L2 listening that are not found in L1 listening. This talk will provide a framework within which these variant phenomena can be unified and understood.