Colloquium: English speech communication in a polyglot soundscape

February 10, 3:30-5pm, Cobb 201
Ann Bradlow, Northwestern University

Many, perhaps even most, English conversations across the globe today are between interlocutors who differ in terms of their relationship to the target language with either one or both being non-native English speakers. Moreover, most real-world speech communication takes place in environments with some degree of background noise, and very often this noise includes competing speech signals that may or may not be in the same language as the target speech. Thus, even if the interlocutors in a given dialogue are both monolingual speakers of the target language, they must frequently function in a potentially very challenging “polyglot soundscape,” i.e. in an auditory environment that includes background speech in multiple languages. In this talk, I will present two lines of research that address the nature and consequences for speech perception of this polyglot soundscape. First, I will present a series of experiments that explored interference from background speech in various languages on English speech perception. Taken together, these speech-in-speech recognition experiments demonstrate interference at various levels of linguistic structure, including sound and semantic structure. Moreover, the magnitude of the language interference effect is dependent on the listener’s native or nonnative status. Second, I will present initial data demonstrating a novel approach to devising a perceptual similarity space for languages from which background language interference patterns and mutual intelligibility predictions can be derived. Overall, these studies begin to build an empirical base for a model of speech communication within a dynamic, global system of languages.