UBC Undergraduate Research

The processing of unfamiliar accents in a competing talker task Senior, Brianne


Listeners’ ability to pay attention to one speaker against a background of other speech – a phenomenon dubbed the cocktail party problem – varies according to properties of the speech streams and the listener. Although a number of acoustic and experiential factors that contribute to a listener’s ability to successfully segregate two simultaneous speech signals have been identified, there are competing predictions about the role unfamiliar accents may play in this process. To this end, familiar Canadian accented voices and unfamiliar British accented voices were used in a competing talker task using the coordinate response measure. Listeners heard two different talkers simultaneously read sentences in the form of “[command] [colour] [preposition] [letter] [number] [adverb]” (e.g., “Lay blue at C4 now”) and had to report the coordinate from the talker who said blue. Results from Canadian listeners indicate that on all but the most challenging trials, listeners did best when attending to an unfamiliar British-accented target against a familiarly-accented masker, but do not do similarly well when forced to ignore this unfamiliar accent. These results suggest listeners can easily tune out a familiar accent but are unable to do the same with an unfamiliar accent.

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