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No L1 privilege in talker adaptation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 October 2019

Laurence Bruggeman
The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University, ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language
Anne Cutler
The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University, ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics


As a rule, listening is easier in first (L1) than second languages (L2); difficult L2 listening can challenge even highly proficient users. We here examine one particular listening function, adaptation to novel talkers, in such a high-proficiency population: Dutch emigrants to Australia, predominantly using English outside the family, but all also retaining L1 proficiency. Using lexically-guided perceptual learning (Norris, McQueen & Cutler, 2003), we investigated these listeners’ adaptation to an ambiguous speech sound, in parallel experiments in both their L1 and their L2. A control study established that perceptual learning outcomes were unaffected by the procedural measures required for this double comparison. The emigrants showed equivalent proficiency in tests in both languages, robust perceptual adaptation in their L2, English, but no adaptation in L1. We propose that adaptation to novel talkers is a language-specific skill requiring regular novel practice; a limited set of known (family) interlocutors cannot meet this requirement.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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