Accommodating Variation: Dialects, Idiolects, and Speech Processing

Cognition. 2008 Apr;107(1):54-81. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.07.013. Epub 2007 Sep 4.


Listeners are faced with enormous variation in pronunciation, yet they rarely have difficulty understanding speech. Although much research has been devoted to figuring out how listeners deal with variability, virtually none (outside of sociolinguistics) has focused on the source of the variation itself. The current experiments explore whether different kinds of variation lead to different cognitive and behavioral adjustments. Specifically, we compare adjustments to the same acoustic consequence when it is due to context-independent variation (resulting from articulatory properties unique to a speaker) versus context-conditioned variation (resulting from common articulatory properties of speakers who share a dialect). The contrasting results for these two cases show that the source of a particular acoustic-phonetic variation affects how that variation is handled by the perceptual system. We also show that changes in perceptual representations do not necessarily lead to changes in production.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Phonetics*
  • Speech Perception*
  • Speech Production Measurement