Doctoral Dissertation Research: Processing foreign-accented speech in noisy conditions in children and adults

Project: Research project

Project Details


In today's globalized world, people increasingly encounter speakers with a foreign accent: the majority of English speakers across the world, for example, are non-native speakers. Moreover, natural speech communication rarely takes place in ideal listening conditions and we often listen to others when surrounded by background noise. Processing and comprehending foreign-accented speech in noisy backgrounds has thus become a common characteristic of everyday communication. This is also true for school-aged children, as their peers may be foreign-accented speakers and their classrooms can be noisy. Prior linguistic research has demonstrated that the addition of background noise can impact the understanding of foreign-accented speech, more so than native-accented speech, and increased cognitive demand has been proposed as the possible explanation.

This project measures cognitive demands during sentence processing, combining behavioral and neurocognitive (EEG) techniques, to examine three questions: What are the linguistic-cognitive mechanisms underlying the processing of foreign-accented and native-accented sentences embedded in background noise and in quiet conditions in (1) adults and (2) children? (3) What are potential sources of individual variability in behavioral and neural responses to semantic anomalies in native- and foreign-accented sentences presented in background noise and in quiet? Two age groups will be tested in two experiments: young adults and children aged 9-11. In the EEG task, participants listen to native- and foreign-accented English sentences. Half the sentences in each accent condition will be embedded in background noise, and the remaining sentences in quiet; half the sentences will contain semantic anomalies and half will be semantically well-formed. Participants will also complete a language background questionnaire, reporting demographic information, language use, proficiency, and accent exposure, as well as behavioral tasks measuring individual differences in linguistic and cognitive abilities. This project provides foundational insights on the cognitive and neural bases of foreign- and native-accented speech processing in noisy and quiet environments. The outcomes also have real-life implications and can, for example, inform educators on facilitating optimal learning environments in their classrooms.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date3/1/218/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $11,246.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.