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Perceptual Mechanisms that Support Accent Accommodation

Project description

Understanding perceptual mechanisms in accent accommodation

Variations in how speakers produce sounds in a language other than their native, known as ‘foreign’ accents, can hinder comprehension. Previous research has shown that listeners can quickly adjust to unfamiliar variations in accented speech. However, the process through which listeners rapidly adapt to accented speakers remains unclear. An alternative perceptual mechanism for accent accommodation is the relaxation of criteria. The MSCA-funded PerMSAA project aims to enhance our theoretical understanding of the perceptual mechanisms facilitating accent accommodation. This will be achieved through three experiments employing a combination of behavioural and psychophysiological measures. The project will investigate shifts in phonemic category boundaries, alterations in within-category sensitivity, and the speed and cognitive demands associated with activating words with accents.


Understanding spoken language requires listeners to map complex acoustic input onto linguistic representations in their mental lexicons. The difficulty of this process is increased by variation in the acoustics of spoken language. In particular, variation in how second-language (L2) speakers produce the sounds of a language (i.e. ‘foreign’ accents) can hinder the efficiency of speech perception. Prior work has indicated that listeners are highly adaptable, and can rapidly accommodate unfamiliar variation in accented speech, but what remains unclear is how listeners rapidly adapt to accented talkers. Many authors have proposed that listeners may “tune” to accented speakers by shifting their phonemic category boundaries (phonemic recalibration). However, attempts to directly link phonemic recalibration to accommodation of natural L2 accents have resulted in mixed outcomes. An alternative perceptual mechanism that has been proposed for accent accommodation is criteria relaxation. On this view, when encountering an unfamiliar accent, listeners relax their thresholds for accepting input as a particular phoneme, lexical item, and so on. Relatedly, listeners may rely less on categorical boundaries when processing L2 accent.

The primary aim of the proposed project is to improve our theoretical understanding of the perceptual mechanism(s) that support accent accommodation. In a series of three experiments, we will investigate the roles of phonemic recalibration and criteria relaxation using a combination of behavioral and psychophysiological measures. Specifically, our interdisciplinary approach will examine shifts in phonemic category boundaries and changes to within-category sensitivity, as well as the rate and cognitive demands of lexical activation for accented items. Ultimately, PerMSAA will increase our theoretical understanding of how listeners accommodate L2 accents, which is a skill that can be leveraged to improve overall communication between L1 and L2 speakers.


Net EU contribution
€ 181 152,96
Paseo mikeletegi 69 2
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Noreste País Vasco Gipuzkoa
Activity type
Research Organisations
EU contribution
No data