Colloquium: Social constraints on spontaneous phonetic imitation

February 16, 3:30-5pm, Cobb 201
Molly Babel, University of British Columbia

Spontaneous phonetic imitation is the process whereby a talker comes to be more similar-sounding to a model talker as the result of auditory exposure. This process has been argued to play a large role in the acquisition of new dialects, sound change, and language learning more generally. Moreover, the existence of the phenomena hints at a non-superficial relationship between speech perception and speech production. In this talk I present the results of three experiments which use auditory naming tasks in order to demonstrate how spontaneous phonetic imitation is moderated by social factors. Auditory naming tasks are an experimental paradigm which are devoid of much social content; the fact that social factors permeate the results suggests that speech is never devoid of such influences. The social factors considered in these experiments are not traditional macro-sociolinguistics variables, but focus on individual participants’ social preferences and social orientation toward the model talkers. The results indicate that phonetic imitation is sensitive to phonetic categories, as well, but all the while indicating such categories are malleable and dynamic entities.