Does the dialect you speak determine how you hear the speech around you? With National Science Foundation support, Dr. Tyler Kendall and Dr. Valerie Fridland will conduct twenty-four months of linguistic research investigating how vowel perception is affected by dialect experience. Utilizing web-based perception experiments to gain participation from across the U.S., and recording speech from a subset of these participating subjects, the project will investigate what links exist between the perception and production of vowel categories (e.g., "ee" and "ih") and how these categories are mediated by variation at the level of the community and the individual. In particular, the research will examine whether distinctive regional vowel changes that affect three main dialects of American English (Northern, Southern and Western) are contributing to greater diversity in speech processing, in addition to speech production, and whether the degree to which individuals show such vowel changes themselves affects their speech processing in relation to their community norms. To gain a better understanding of the impact of social influences on speech perception, this research will investigate whether listeners' categorization of vowels is also affected by their expectations regarding learned social distinctions among speakers, such as regional affiliation or gender.
Increasing evidence suggests that socially derived linguistic variation provides more than simply clues to social identity, and, in fact, plays a pivotal role in the actual processing and decoding of the speech signal itself. Research in this area should prove to have applied benefits such as informing educational approaches to non-native language/dialect populations and also to the development of voice recognition technologies. Further, comparative examination of the productive and perceptual range of speakers affected by different dialect experiences will inform both speech and hearing science and sociolinguistic research, contributing to basic theories about the nature of speech processing and of sound change.