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PhonDi Discussion Group: Positive Attitudes Through Better Comprehension: The Role of Perceptual Adaptation in Accent-Based Discrimination

Dave Ogden
Friday, October 13, 2017
1:00-2:00 PM
473 Lorch Hall Map

It has been argued that language, including accent, is one of the last domains in which discrimination is widely acceptable, and that language discrimination is a “back door” to discrimination on other traits like nationality, ethnicity, and gender (Lippi-Green, 2012). Accent discrimination resulting from negative attitudes linked to stereotypes of social groups is well-recognized in sociolinguistic research (Dragojevic & Giles, 2016; Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010). More recently, researchers have begun to assess how perceptual fluency, or the effortfulness that listeners feel in understanding accented speech, affects attitudes towards speakers. Disfluent perception, the experience associated with effortful information processing, leads to negative emotions and attitudes toward that information (Alter, 2013; Alter & Oppenheimer, 2009), and disfluent perception of an unfamiliar accent leads to negative evaluations of the speaker (Dragojevic & Giles, 2016). Yet listeners have a robust ability to adapt to and understand highly variable speech patterns, as shown by improvements in comprehension of non-native speech with listening experience (Baese-Berk, Bradlow, & Wright, 2013; Bradlow & Bent, 2008; Sidaras, Alexander, & Nygaard, 2009). Thus, to the extent that negative attitudes are the result of difficult comprehension, attitudes should improve with adaptation.

To test this hypothesis, participants' pupil dilation (a physiological measure of cognitive effort), self-reported ease of comprehension, and attitude ratings were measured over the course of a listening experiment. Pilot data show that pupil dilation decreases with experience with a non-native accent, indicating decreased listening effort. Over the same period, ratings of the speaker on warmth traits (e.g., "kind", "friendly") improved significantly. However, self-reported ease of understanding did not change. These results provide preliminary support for the hypothesis that attitudes improve as a result of easier comprehension, even though participants' do no report being aware of this improvement in comprehension.
Building: Lorch Hall
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: Discussion, Language
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Department of Linguistics