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A language-familiarity effect for speaker discrimination without comprehension

Abstract : The influence of language familiarity upon speaker identification is well established, to such an extent that it has been argued that "Human voice recognition depends on language ability" [Perrachione TK, Del Tufo SN, Gabrieli JDE (2011) Science 333(6042):595]. However, 7-mo-old infants discriminate speakers of their mother tongue better than they do foreign speakers [Johnson EK, Westrek E, Nazzi T, Cutler A (2011) Dev Sci 14(5):1002-1011] despite their limited speech comprehension abilities, suggesting that speaker discrimination may rely on familiarity with the sound structure of one's native language rather than the ability to comprehend speech. To test this hypothesis, we asked Chinese and English adult participants to rate speaker dissimilarity in pairs of sentences in English or Mandarin that were first time-reversed to render them unintel-ligible. Even in these conditions a language-familiarity effect was observed: Both Chinese and English listeners rated pairs of native-language speakers as more dissimilar than foreign-language speakers, despite their inability to understand the material. Our data indicate that the language familiarity effect is not based on comprehension but rather on familiarity with the phonology of one's native language. This effect may stem from a mechanism analogous to the "other-race" effect in face recognition.
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David Fleming, Bruno Giordano, Roberto Caldara, Pascal Belin. A language-familiarity effect for speaker discrimination without comprehension. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , National Academy of Sciences, 2014, 111 (38), pp.13795-13798. ⟨10.1073/pnas.1401383111⟩. ⟨hal-02006938⟩

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