In a globalized world, accent variation presents a pervasive challenge to speech communication. English, for example, may be the world’s most spoken language, but “English” in St. Louis is not the same as “English” in Singapore or Glasgow, and native speakers all over the world need to understand not only each other, but also the many people who speak English as a second language (L2). Research on accent processing has typically focused on intelligibility (i.e., accuracy of repetition or transcription) as its outcome measure. Intelligibility alone, however, cannot address differences in the cognitive demand required to achieve similar accuracy across different speakers or inform us about the cognitive effort exerted by different listeners to achieve similar levels of identification accuracy. Research on this type of effort, by contrast, has focused on listening challenges that arise from acoustic degradation (e.g., hearing loss or noise). In this talk, I will discuss our lab’s ongoing to work to develop an understanding of how people comprehend accented speech that is informed not only by endpoint behavior, but also by online measures of cognitive processing. This work, in turn, allows us to develop models of listening effort that account not only for acoustic challenges, but also for signal-inherent challenges like accent variation.
Kristin Van Engen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Linguistics Program at Washington University in St. Louis. She received her PhD in Linguistics from Northwestern University in 2010 and held postdoctoral positions at the University of Texas in Austin and at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research is directed at understanding human speech perception and processing, with a focus on the sensory and cognitive mechanisms that support successful communication in challenging listening conditions. She is particularly interested in how linguistic experience shapes speech perception and processing and how signal-intrinsic (e.g., accent) and signal-extrinsic factors (e.g., noise) interact to modulate the success of communication.