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How people listen to languages they don't know

Lorch, Marjorie and Meara, P. (1989) How people listen to languages they don't know. Language Sciences 11 (4), pp. 343-353. ISSN 0388-0001.

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This study investigates how people listen to and recognize unknown foreign languages. We examine the ability of subjects to describe, transcribe and identify six foreign languages which have various significance in the sociolinguistic context of greater London: Farsi, Punjabi, Spanish, Indonesian, Arabic and Urdu. Unknown foreign languages represent linguistic stimuli as sound patterns without meaning. As such, they raise a number of interesting questions: What aspects of a linguistic stimuli can be processed in the absence of meaning? Do lay people have an awareness of their linguistic environment? Does passive experience affect language awareness? Our findings indicate that the judgments made by untrained listeners are actually quite complex. Although subjects lacked the vocabulary necessary to accurately describe phonetic features, they did offer reports of segmental, suprasegmental, and other impressionistic details. A strong recency effect was found. Our listeners appeared to use a variety of strategies in attempting to identify the target languages. Subjects did appear to have a “feel” for the language family or geographical area where the target language was spoken. Presumably this arises because of general exposure to foreign languages in the media, and from personal contacts. We discuss some evidence from research on categorical perception and the psychology of music which offers a possible interpretation of these findings.

Item Type: Article
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Applied Linguistics and Communication
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2011 11:18
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2016 14:27

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