Graduate candidate Emily Rae Sabo will defend her dissertation -- "Social factors in the production, perception and processing of contact language varieties: Evidence from bilingual corpora, evaluations of perceived nativeness, and real-time processing (EEG) of Spanish-accented English" -- on Friday, September 18, at 1 pm. Zoom access.


Originating in the 1960’s with the work of William Labov, the field of sociolinguistics has given way to a rich literature that continues to uncover the many ways in which social factors influence how we produce, perceive, and process speech. Sociolinguistic research has burgeoned alongside increasing globalization and migration, which has, in the case of the U.S. at least, resulted in increased levels of bilingualism and more frequent interactions with non-native English speakers (Romero-Rivas, Martin, & Costa, 2015). My dissertation, which consists of three distinct articles, combines insights from the sociolinguistic literature with methodologies from cognitive science in order to better understand the ways in which perceptions of identity and social attitudes towards nonstandard language varieties influence our everyday spoken interactions. More specifically, I investigate how several social factors (i.e. language background, dialect stigmatization, and speaker accent) influence speech production and perception. The data presented come from over sixty fieldwork interviews, a series of corpus analyses, two online surveys, and one neurolinguistic experiment. In the first paper, I identify how social factors appears to influence auxiliary verb choice among Ecuadorian Spanish speakers. While the markedly frequent use of auxiliary ir, Sp. ‘to go’ in Ecuadorian Spanish has historically been traced to contact effects from Quichua, analysis of a present-day Ecuadorian Spanish corpus reveals that Quichua-Spanish bilinguals actually use it less frequently than do their Spanish monolingual counterparts. Given auxiliary ir has been said to invoke connotations of folksiness and that Quichua-Spanish bilinguals have long been denied linguistic prestige in the sociolinguistic stratification of Ecuadorian Spanish, I argue that language background and dialect stigmatization most aptly explain the current distribution of auxiliary ir production among Ecuadorian Spanish speakers. In the second article, I investigate the relationship between speaker accents and American perceptions of nativeness. Specifically, I examined how young Midwesterners today perceive two main kinds of Spanish-influenced English varieties: L1 Chicano English (as spoken in Chicago, U.S.) and L2 Spanish-accented English (as spoken in Santiago, Chile). Since Latinos have recently become the dominant ethnic minoritized group in the U.S., the varieties of English that they speak are under increasing scrutiny, and cases of linguistic discrimination are on the rise. Results from an accent evaluation survey reveal that respondents distinguished the L1 Chicano English from the L2 Spanish-influenced English speaker, but still rated him as slightly more foreign-sounding than L1 speakers with more established U.S. dialects (e.g. New York). In other words, native U.S. speakers perceived as “sounding Hispanic” were perceived as sounding “almost American,” which suggests that what Midwesterners count as sounding American may be in the process of expanding to include U.S.-born Latinos. In the third article, I focus on the effect that speaker accent has on online word processing in the brain. Specifically, does Spanish-accented English speech increase activation of the Spanish lexicon in the mind of Spanish-English bilingual listeners? Data from an EEG experiment suggests that speaker accent does modulate bilingual lexical activation, though only slightly. This is demonstrated by a slight N400 reduction effect when false cognates from Spanish were produced by a Spanish-accented English speaker relative to a Chinese-accented English speaker.