SLaLS Talk: Fri, Nov 2, 2012

The School of Language and Linguistic Studies will be having a colloquium talk this Friday, Nov 2, 2012 at 3:30pm in PA218.

Speaker: Beth MacLeod

Title: The Effect of Perceptual Salience on Phonetic Accommodation in Cross-Dialectal Conversation in Spanish

Abstract: Phonetic accommodation is the process where speakers in an interaction modify their speech in response to their interlocutor. The social-psychological theory of Communication Accommodation Theory (Giles 1973) predicts that speakers will converge towards (become more similar to) their interlocutors in order to decrease social distance, whereas they will diverge away from (become less similar to) their interlocutors to accentuate distinctiveness or show disdain. Previous studies have found that phonetic accommodation is affected by many social, situational, and linguistic factors (Abrego-Collier et al. 2011; Black 2012; Babel 2009, 2010, 2012; Babel et al. 2012; Kim, Horton & Bradlow 2011; Nielsen 2011; Pardo et al. 2012). With respect to accommodation across dialects, a handful of studies have suggested that the perceptual salience of the various differences between two dialects might affect the pattern; however, these studies make conflicting predictions. Trudgill (1986) predicts that speakers will converge more towards the more salient dialectal differences, while Kim et al. (2011) and Babel (2009, 2010) suggest the opposite: that speakers will converge on the less salient differences.

This study investigates the role of perceptual salience in cross-dialectal phonetic accommodation in conversation between speakers of two dialects of Spanish: Buenos Aires Spanish and Madrid Spanish. An experiment testing 11 pairs of Spanish speakers (in each pair, one from Buenos Aires and one from Madrid) was conducted in Madrid. The experiment included a perception task to quantify the perceptual salience of the dialectal differences as well as a production component where the speakers were exposed to each other’s dialect via a map task (Anderson et al. 1991). A word-list reading task flanked the conversation component and included lexical items containing the six dialectal differences. Acoustic analyses of the pre- and post-conversation word lists determined the extent to which speakers changed their pronunciation as a result of having been exposed to the other dialect. Mixed effects models were used to determine the contribution of a variety of factors in explaining the findings.

The results are considered both with respect to the magnitude of the changes that the participants make as well as the direction of the change (convergence or divergence). The main finding is that perceptual salience does affect the pattern of accommodation in terms of the magnitude of the changes made in that as perceptual salience of the dialectal differences increases, the magnitude of the changes made also increases. In contrast, perceptual salience was not found to have a consistent effect on the direction of change made.

I argue that the lack of consistent effect of salience on the direction of the change stems from individual differences in motivation to take on the opposing dialect norms and issues of personal identity, whereas the very consistent effect of salience on the magnitude of the change suggests that there is something more basic or systematic about how salience interacts with the extent to which speakers accommodate.

This study helps clarify issues of perceptual salience in phonetic convergence contributing to our understanding of second dialect acquisition, and dialect contact and change in multi-dialectal regions. In addition, it provides the first examination of Spanish in the emerging body of research on phonetic convergence in spontaneous conversation.

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