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The effects of non-native English on the language processing abilities of native English speakers Dawlings, Kathryn

Abstract

Listening to people with foreign-accented English is often challenging for native English listeners. The current project aimed to investigate the effects of listening to non-native English on language processing. The roles of syntactic complexity, working memory, and familiarity with accented English in processing non-native English were considered from three theoretical views of working memory and language processing. Twenty-two native English participants listened to sentences of three levels of syntactic difficulty spoken by a native English speaker and a non-native English speaker in an on-line word monitoring experiment. Listeners' response times to monitoring for a target word in each sentence were taken as a measure of processing difficulty. The results showed that response times were slower when listening to non-native English than native English speech. Response times were also slower for the most syntactically difficult sentence type than for the more syntactically simple sentences. The slowest response times occurred for target words that occurred early in the most syntactically difficult sentence type spoken by the non-native English speaker. Working memory scores and self-reported experience listening to accented English did not have a significant effect on response times. There was a trend towards faster response times for the non-native English input from block 1 to block 2 suggesting the presence of adaptation to the accent. These findings support a theory of language processing where acoustic-phonetic features interact with syntactic processing.

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