Age Effects in Processing Bilinguals’ Accented Speech

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Conference Proceeding

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ISB4: Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism


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All rights reserved @2005. Please contact Cascadilla Press for information on reprinting, reusing, etc.


Older adults often complain about difficulty understanding distorted speech, such as synthetic voices on telephones, answering-machine messages that are “too-fast”, and movies with actors speaking dialects of English different from their own. Younger adults (college-students) have been reported to complain about difficulties understanding teaching assistants with “foreign” accented speech (e.g., Brown, 1992; Norris, 1991). Speech spoken by bilingual speakers with non-native accents is prevalent in many settings and likely to be experienced by the young and old listeners alike. We ask whether older adult listeners are disproportionately affected, relative to younger adults, by bilinguals’ accented speech. One might expect that older adults have more difficulty than younger adults in processing accented speech because older listeners have been documented to have more difficulty with other forms of distorted speech, namely speech-in-noise, reverberant speech, and time-compressed speech, as will be discussed further (see also Wingfield & Stine-Morrow, 2000 and Schneider & PichoraFuller, 2000). Obler et al. (1985) showed that older monolingual adults (in their 70s) perform significantly worse than younger monolingual adults (aged 30-69) when reporting the final word of Speech Perception in Noise test (Kalikow et al., 1977) sentences under low stimulus-to-noise ratios. Pichora-Fuller et al. (1995) reported a similar finding. They demonstrated that older participants found it significantly more difficult than younger adults to filter the signal from the noise. When the noise level was low, older adults performed at ceiling on word-recognition tasks, but when the noise level was high, even participants with near-normal hearing sensitivity experienced difficulty with the task.

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