Regional and foreign accent processing in English: can listeners adapt?

J Psycholinguist Res. 2009 Aug;38(4):379-412. doi: 10.1007/s10936-008-9097-8. Epub 2009 Jan 1.


Recent data suggest that the first presentation of a foreign accent triggers a delay in word identification, followed by a subsequent adaptation. This study examines under what conditions the delay resumes to baseline level. The delay will be experimentally induced by the presentation of sentences spoken to listeners in a foreign or a regional accent as part of a lexical decision task for words placed at the end of sentences. Using a blocked design of accents presentation, Experiment 1 shows that accent changes cause a temporary perturbation in reaction times, followed by a smaller but long-lasting delay. Experiment 2 shows that the initial perturbation is dependent on participants' expectations about the task. Experiment 3 confirms that the subsequent long-lasting delay in word identification does not habituate after repeated exposure to the same accent. Results suggest that comprehensibility of accented speech, as measured by reaction times, does not benefit from accent exposure, contrary to intelligibility.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Comprehension*
  • Female
  • Geography
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Phonetics
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Psycholinguistics*
  • Reaction Time
  • Speech Perception*
  • Speech*
  • Young Adult