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Dissertation Information

Title: Inductive inference in non-native speech processing and learning Add Dissertation
Author: Bozena Pajak Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of California, San Diego, Linguistics
Completed in: 2012
Linguistic Subfield(s): Phonetics; Phonology; Psycholinguistics; Language Acquisition;
Director(s): Roger Levy
Eric Baković

Abstract: Despite extensive research on language acquisition, our understanding
of how people learn abstract linguistic structures remains limited. In the
phonological domain, we know that perceptual reorganization in
infancy results in attuning to native language (L1) phonetic categories
and, consequently, in difficulty discriminating and learning non-native
categories. This difficulty has been proposed to originate from novel
sounds being perceptually mapped onto L1 phonetic categories,
leading to massive L1 interference. However, ample evidence that the
adult speech processing system preserves a considerable degree of
plasticity suggests that more complex learning mechanisms might be in
place. In this dissertation I propose an alternative theory in which non-
native speech processing is guided by principles of hierarchical
inductive inference regarding how likely a given phonetic dimension is
to be phonologically informative in any novel language. This theory
differs crucially from mapping theories in predicting that when a
phonetic dimension is informative (e.g., phonologically contrastive) in
one’s native language, discriminations involving that dimension should
be enhanced even among classes of sounds for which the dimension is
not informative in the native language. I provide experimental evidence
supporting the inductive theory, demonstrating that language learning
goes beyond the acquisition of specific phonetic categories, and
includes higher-order generalizations regarding the relative importance
of phonetic dimensions in the language as a whole. I argue that this
theory can be extended beyond phonetic category learning to other
domains of language acquisition, and that it suggests that adults and
infants recruit the same domain-general learning mechanisms when
acquiring novel languages.