February 29, 2016

Guest speaker: Jessamyn Schertz (University of Toronto)

Our department is very pleased to host a guest talk by current postdoctoral fellow Jessamyn Schertz. She is a phonologist whose interests are centered on speech perception and production, especially with regard to category boundaries. After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 2014, Jessamyn joined our department as a postdoc in order to work on Yoonjung Kang's SSHRC-funded project 'Bilingualism, perceptual drift, and regularization of loanwords'.

Jessamyn will be giving a talk, "Linguistic constraints on phonetic adaptation," in SS 560A on Friday the 4th, beginning at 3:00 PM. A reception will follow in the department lounge.

Speakers and listeners show remarkable flexibility, dynamically adapting their production and comprehension of language to different communicative situations. Far from being arbitrary or unconstrained, however, the trajectory of adaptation is governed by many factors, including linguistic structure. In this talk, I present three studies examining how language users adjust their use of the “cues” that define phonetic categories in different situations, and I show how these adjustments are constrained by language- and listener-specific phonological structure. First, in production, when clarifying misheard speech, how speakers adjust their pronunciation of a given segment varies both by language (Spanish versus English) and by the specific nature of the misunderstanding. Second, in perception, native Korean-speaking learners of English show categorically distinct patterns of adjustment when confronted with a novel accent, and the different adaptation strategies are predictable based on individual differences in listeners’ pre-existing L2 English phonetic category structure. Finally, expectations about the dialectal affiliation of a talker influence Korean listeners’ categorization of sounds, but this influence is modulated by the listeners’ own dialectal perceptual patterns. Taken together, this work highlights the active role played by language- and listener-specific phonology in phonetic adaptation. More generally, it points to the importance of the joint consideration of linguistic structure and communicative context. Taking into account knowledge of linguistic structure allows for more precise models of adaptation, accommodation, and learning; at the same time, exploring when and how shifts do – and do not – occur can elucidate which elements of linguistic structure play an active role in language use.

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