Skip to main content

Talker familiarity and spoken word recognition in school-age children*


Research with adults has shown that spoken language processing is improved when listeners are familiar with talkers' voices, known as the familiar talker advantage. The current study explored whether this ability extends to school-age children, who are still acquiring language. Children were familiarized with the voices of three German–English bilingual talkers and were tested on the speech of six bilinguals, three of whom were familiar. Results revealed that children do show improved spoken language processing when they are familiar with the talkers, but this improvement was limited to highly familiar lexical items. This restriction of the familiar talker advantage is attributed to differences in the representation of highly familiar and less familiar lexical items. In addition, children did not exhibit accent-general learning; despite having been exposed to German-accented talkers during training, there was no improvement for novel German-accented talkers.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Susannah Levi, New York University, Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, 665 Broadway, 9th floor, New York, NY 10012.
Hide All

This work was supported by a grant from the NIH-NIDCD (1R03DC009851-01A2). I would like to thank Gabrielle Alfano, Josh Barocas, Jennifer Bruno, Stephanie Lee, Emma Mack, Alexandra Muratore, Sydney Robert, and Margo Waltz for help with data collection, Adam Buchwald and Richard Schwartz for comments on previous versions of this paper, and the children and families for their participation.

Hide All
Allen, J. S. & Miller, J. L. (2004). Listener sensitivity to individual talker differences in voice-onset-time. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 115, 3171–83.
Baayen, R. H. (2008). Analyzing linguistic data: a practical introduction to statistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Baayen, R. H., Davidson, D. J. & Bates, D. M. (2008). Mixed-effects modeling with crossed random effects for subjects and items. Journal of Memory and Language 59, 390412.
Barker, B. A. & Newman, R. S. (2004). Listen to your mother! The role of talker familiarity in infant streaming. Cognition 94, B4553.
Bartholomeus, B. (1973). Voice identification by nursery school children. Canadian Journal of Psychology 27(4), 464–72.
Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B. & Walker, S. (2010). lme4: linear mixed-effects models using Eigen and S4. Online: <>.
Benkí, J. (2003). Quantitative evaluation of lexical status, word frequency, and neighborhood density as context effects in spoken word recognition. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 113(3), 1689–705.
Bent, T. (2014). Children's perception of foreign-accented words. Journal of Child Language (forthcoming).
Best, C. T. (1993). Emergence of language-specific constraints in perception of native and non-native speech: a window on early phonological development. In de Boysson, B., de Schonen, S., Jusczyk, P., McNeilage, P. & Morton, J. (eds), Developmental neurocognition: speech and face processing during the first year of life, 289304. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Bradlow, A. R. & Bent, T. (2008). Perceptual adaptation to non-native speech. Cognition 106(2), 707–29.
Brown, L., Sherbenou, R. J. & Johnsen, S. K. (1997). TONI-3: test of nonverbal intelligence, 3rd ed. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Carle, E. (1969). The very hungry caterpillar. New York, NY: Philomel Books.
Clarke, C. M. & Garrett, M. F. (2004). Rapid adaptation to foreign-accented English. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 116(6), 3647–58.
Clopper, C. G. & Pisoni, D. B. (2004). Effects of talker variability on perceptual learning of dialects. Language and Speech 47(3), 207–39.
Cortese, M. J. & Khanna, M. M. (2008). Age of acquisition ratings for 3,000 monosyllabic words. Behavior Research Methods 40(3), 791–4.
Creel, S. C., Aslin, R. N. & Tanenhaus, M. K. (2008). Heeding the voice of experience: the role of talker variation in lexical access. Cognition 106, 633–64.
Creel, S. C. & Jimenez, S. R. (2012). Differences in talker recognition by preschoolers and adults. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 113, 487509.
Eisner, F. & McQueen, J. M. (2005). The specificity of perceptual learning in speech processing. Perception & Psychophysics 67, 224–38.
Felty, R. A. (2007). Context effects in spoken word recognition of English and German by native and non-native listeners. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Michigan.
Fennell, C. T. & Werker, J. F. (2003). Early word learners' ability to access phonetic detail in well-known words. Language and Speech 46(2/3), 245–64.
Goldinger, S. D., Pisoni, D. B. & Logan, J. S. (1991). On the nature of talker variability effects in recall of spoken word lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 17(1), 152–62.
Jaeger, T. F. (2008). Categorical data analysis: away from ANOVAs (transformation or not) and towards logit mixed models. Journal of Memory and Language 59, 434–46.
Jesse, A., McQueen, J. M. & Page, M. (2007). The locus of talker-specific effects in spoken-word recognition. In Trouvain, J. & Barry, W. J. (eds), International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS 2007), 1921–4. Dudweiler: Pirrot.
Jusczyk, P. W. (1986). Toward a model of the development of speech perception. In Perkell, J. S. & Klatt, D. H. (eds), Invariance and variability in speech processes, 119. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Jusczyk, P. W. (1992). Developing phonological categories from the speech signal. In Ferguson, C. A., Menn, L. & Stoel-Gammon, C. (eds), Phonological development: models, research, implications, 1764. Parkton, MD: York Press.
Kraljic, T., Brennan, S. E. & Samuel, A. G. (2008). Accommodating variation: dialects, idiolects, and speech processing. Cognition 107, 5481.
Kraljic, T. & Samuel, A. G. (2007). Perceptual adjustments to multiple talkers. Journal of Memory and Language 56, 115.
Kučera, H. & Francis, W. N. (1967). Computational analysis of present-day American English. Providence, RI: Brown University Press.
Kuhl, P. K., Williams, K. A., Lacerda, F., Stevens, K. N. & Lindblom, B. (1992). Linguistic experience alters phonetic perception in infants by 6 months of age. Science 255, 606–8.
Ladefoged, P. & Broadbent, D. E. (1957). Information conveyed by vowels. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 29, 98104.
Levi, S. V. & Schwartz, R. G. (2013). The development of language-specific and language-independent talker processing. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 56, 913–20.
Levi, S. V., Winters, S. J. & Pisoni, D. B. (2007). Speaker-independent factors affecting the perception of foreign accent in a second language. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 121, 2327–38.
Levi, S. V., Winters, S. J. & Pisoni, D. B. (2011). Effects of cross-language voice training on speech perception: Whose familiar voices are more intelligible? Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 130(6), 4053–62.
Mann, V. A., Diamond, R. & Carey, S. (1979). Development of voice recognition: parallels with face recognition. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 27, 153–65.
Markham, D. & Hazan, V. (2004). The effect of talker- and listener-related factors on intelligibility for a real-word, open-set perception task. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 47, 725–37.
McLennan, C. T. & Luce, P. A. (2005). Examining the time course of indexical specificity effects in spoken word recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 31(2), 306–21.
McQueen, J. M., Cutler, A. & Norris, D. (2006). Phonological abstraction in the mental lexicon. Cognitive Science 30(6), 1113–26.
Metsala, J. L. (1997). An examination of word frequency and neighborhood density in the development of spoken-word recognition. Memory & Cognition 25(1), 4756.
Moher, M., Feigenson, L. & Halberda, J. (2010). A one-to-one bias and fast mapping support preschoolers’ learning about faces and voices. Cognitive Science 34(5), 719–51.
Morris, C. D., Bransford, J. D. & Franks, J. J. (1977). Levels of processing versus transfer appropriate processing. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 16, 519–33.
Nelson, P. B. & Soli, S. (2000). Acoustical barriers to learning: children at risk in every classroom. Language, Speech, and Hearing Research Services in Schools 31, 356–61.
Newman, R. S. & Evers, S. (2007). The effect of talker familiarity on stream segregation. Journal of Phonetics 35, 85103.
Norris, D., McQueen, J. M. & Cutler, A. (2003). Perceptual learning in speech. Cognitive Psychology 47, 204–38.
Nygaard, L. C. & Pisoni, D. B. (1998). Talker-specific learning in speech perception. Perception & Psychophysics 60(3), 355–76.
Nygaard, L. C., Sommers, M. S. & Pisoni, D. B. (1994). Speech perception as a talker-contingent process. Psychological Science 5(1), 42–6.
Palmeri, T. J., Goldinger, S. D. & Pisoni, D. B. (1993). Episodic encoding of voice attributes and recognition memory for spoken words. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 19(2), 309–28.
Samuel, A. G. & Kraljic, T. (2009). Perceptual learning for speech. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 71(6), 1207–18.
Schacter, D. L. & Church, B. A. (1992). Auditory priming: implicit and explicit memory for words and voices. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 18(5), 915–30.
Schmale, R., Cristia, A. & Seidl, A. (2012). Toddlers recognize words in an unfamiliar accent after brief exposure. Developmental Science 15(6), 732–8.
Schmale, R. & Seidl, A. (2009). Accommodating variability in voice and foreign accent: flexibility of early word representations. Developmental Science 12(4), 583601.
Schneider, W., Eschman, A. & Zuccolotto, A. (2007). E-Prime 2·0 Professional. Pittsburgh, PA: Psychology Software Tools, Inc.
Schroeder, M. R. (1968). Reference signal for signal quality studies. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 44, 1735–6.
Semel, E., Wiig, E. H. & Secord, W. A. (2003). Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, 4th ed. (CELF-4). Toronto, CA: Psychological Corporation/A Harcourt Assessment Company.
Sidaras, S. K., Alexander, J. E. D. & Nygaard, L. C. (2009). Perceptual learning of systematic variation in Spanish-accented speech. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 125(5), 3306–16.
Sjerps, M. J., Mitterer, H. & McQueen, J. M. (2011). Listening to different speakers: on the time-course of perceptual compensation for vocal-tract characteristics. Neuropsychologia 49, 3831–46.
Spence, M. J., Rollins, P. R. & Jerger, S. (2002). Children's recognition of cartoon voices. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 45(1), 214–22.
Stager, C. L. & Werker, J. F. (1997). Infants listen for more phonetic detail in speech perception tasks than in word-learning tasks. Nature 388, 381–2.
Storkel, H. L. (2013). A corpus of consonant–vowel–consonant real words and nonwords: comparison of phonotactic probability, neighborhood density, and consonant age of acquisition. Behavior Research Methods, 45(4), 11591167.
Storkel, H. L. & Hoover, J. R. (2010). An online calculator to compute phonotactic probability and neighborhood density on the basis of child corpora of spoken American English. Behavior Research Methods 42(2), 497506.
Sumby, W. H. & Pollack, I. (1954). Visual contribution to speech intelligibility in noise. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 26(2), 212–5.
Swingley, D. & Aslin, R. N. (2000). Spoken word recognition and lexical representation in very young children. Cognition 76, 147–66.
Tulving, E. & Thomson, D. M. (1973). Encoding specificity and retrieval processes in episodic memory. Psychological Review 80(5), 352–73.
van Heugten, M. & Johnson, E. K. (2014). Learning to contend with accents in infancy: benefits of brief speaker exposure. Journal of Experimental Psychology General, 143(1), 340350.
Vitevitch, M. S. & Donoso, A. (2011). Processing of indexical information requires time: evidence from change deafness. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 64(8), 1484–93.
Walley, A. C. (1993). The role of vocabulary development in children's spoken word recognition and segmentation ability. Developmental Review 13(3), 286350.
Werker, J. F. & Tees, R. C. (1984). Cross-language speech perception: evidence for perceptual reorganization during the first year of life. Infant Behavior and Development 7, 4963.
White, K. S. & Aslin, R. N. (2011). Adaptation to novel accents by toddlers. Developmental Science 14(2), 372–84.
White, K. S. & Morgan, J. L. (2008). Sub-segmental detail in early lexical representations. Journal of Memory and Language 59, 114–32.
White, K. S., Yee, E., Blumstein, S. E. & Morgan, J. L. (2013). Adults show less sensitivity to phonetic detail in unfamiliar words, too. Journal of Memory and Language 68, 362–78.
Yonan, C. A. & Sommers, M. S. (2000). The effects of talker familiarity on spoken word identification in younger and older listeners. Psychology and Aging 15(1), 8899.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed