Limitations on adaptation to foreign accents

Alison M. Trude, Annie Tremblay, Sarah Brown-Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although foreign accents can be highly dissimilar to native speech, existing research suggests that listeners readily adapt to foreign accents after minimal exposure. However, listeners often report difficulty understanding non-native accents, and the time-course and specificity of adaptation remain unclear. Across five experiments, we examined whether listeners could use a newly learned feature of a foreign accent to eliminate lexical competitors during on-line speech perception. Participants heard the speech of a native English speaker and a native speaker of Québec French who, in English, pronounces /i/ as [. i] (e.g., weak as wick) before all consonants except voiced fricatives. We examined whether listeners could learn to eliminate a shifted /i/-competitor (e.g., weak) when interpreting the accented talker produce an unshifted word (e.g., wheeze). In four experiments, adaptation was strikingly limited, though improvement across the course of the experiment and with stimulus variations indicates learning was possible. In a fifth experiment, adaptation was not improved when a native English talker produced the critical vowel shift, demonstrating that the limitation is not simply due to the fact the accented talker was non-native. These findings suggest that although listeners can arrive at the correct interpretation of a foreign accent, this process can pose significant difficulty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-367
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Accommodation
  • Eye-tracking
  • Foreign accent
  • Perception
  • Speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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