Colloquium: Adriana Hanulikova (University of Freiburg, Germany) - "How does the brain deal with language variability?"
"How does the brain deal with language variability?"
How do listeners manage the variability in spoken language in everyday use? The task of comprehending spoken language is notoriously challenging, because listeners have only a very short time to process and integrate various sources of linguistic information, including phonology, semantics, morphology, syntax, and pragmatics. The challenge of this task increases even more when one considers dialectal or non-native speech variation. This variation is usually noticeable in the phonetic and phonological characteristics, but syntax, morphology and semantics can vary concurrently as well. The initial processing difficulties resulting from differences in language usage between speakers usually decrease, as listeners adjust to the variation in speech and improve their comprehension of it. However, some variation can be more salient than other, and can lead to more difficulties in processing as a function of whether it is compatible with the speaker’s accent, language variety and/or one’s linguistic or social experience and knowledge. Listeners usually need only a short exposure to spoken language to find out who the speaker is and whether his or her way of speaking appears familiar to them. Despite a large number of linguistic studies of language variation, the cognitive and linguistic mechanisms of how listeners understand spoken language despite the large variation and how they integrate linguistic and extra-linguistic information at different levels of representations continue to remain poorly understood. In this talk I will present a series of studies examining how comprehension of variable spoken language is modulated by linguistic experience.