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LINGUIST List 21.271

Sat Jan 16 2010

Diss: Lang Acq/Neuroling: Yarmolinskaya: 'Perception and...'

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        1.    Julia Yarmolinskaya, Perception and Acquisition of Second Language Phonology

Message 1: Perception and Acquisition of Second Language Phonology
Date: 14-Jan-2010
From: Julia Yarmolinskaya <juliacogsci.jhu.edu>
Subject: Perception and Acquisition of Second Language Phonology
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Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Program: Department of Cognitive Science
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2010

Author: Julia Yarmolinskaya

Dissertation Title: Perception and Acquisition of Second Language Phonology

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
                            Neurolinguistics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            Russian (rus)

Dissertation Director:
Colin Wilson
Brenda Rapp

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation investigates perception and neural processing of
consonant clusters that are not attested in English and their acquisition
when a learner first becomes exposed to the language containing such
clusters. Until recently it has been assumed that when presented with
familiar sounds in unfamiliar combinations, a listener will perceive these
combinations accurately. This assumption has been challenged in the recent
years and it has been shown that the native phonological grammar tends to
'repair' phonotactic violations to conform to the rules of the native
language (Berent et al., 2007, 2009; Dupoux et al., 1999; Hallé et al., 1998).

This work contains two studies: (1) a set of two psycholinguistic
experiments investigating factors playing a role in perception and
acquisition of unattested consonant clusters and (2) a functional MRI
experiment examining the neural substrates of the native and unfamiliar
phonology.

The psycholinguistic study (Study 1) looks at whether phonological
principles, such as sonority, are successful in predicting listeners'
perception and course of acquisition of unattested clusters, or if other
factors, such as phonetic features of the segments or the language in which
these clusters are presented, also play a role and are necessary in
explaining the pattern of results. To investigate these questions,
phonotactically illegal onset consonant clusters differing in their
complexity and degree of violation of sonority principles were presented to
monolingual native English speakers for transcription and for learning as
part of a foreign language vocabulary.

The results of Study 1 indicate that while there is evidence for the role
of sonority principles, alone they are insufficient in accounting for all
the observed data and at least some additional phonetic factors are also
necessary to explain the data (Albright, 2007). Furthermore, the language
environment in which unattested clusters are presented may also play a role
in perception. Learning results suggest that listeners are able to extract
and generalize abstract linguistic information about these clusters.

The fMRI experiment (Study 2) focuses on identifying the neural substrates
underlying perception of the native and unfamiliar foreign phonology,
including stimuli containing clusters that are phonotactically illegal in
the native language. In this experiment we observed different patterns of
activation and behavioral responses for stimuli presented in English vs. an
unfamiliar foreign language - Russian, as well as words vs. nonwords, and
legal vs. illegal nonwords in either English or Russian.

Together these experiments add new knowledge to the study of auditory
language processing, specifically at the level of the phonological grammar.
They provide further evidence for grammar's reliance on universal
principles of markedness and for the previous finding of accurate
perception at the acoustic/phonetic level of processing. In addition, this
research helps identify the factors that control how active the grammar is,
how violations of the grammar's constraints are repaired, and how these
repairs are adjusted in the course of training. Finally, the neuroimaging
experiment localizes some aspects of phonological processing to the left
temporal regions, providing a neuro-anatomical basis for the cognitive
function that was explored in Study 1.



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