Abstraction and the (misnamed) language familiarity effect

Elizabeth K. Johnson, Laurence Bruggeman, Anne Cutler

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    18 Citations (Scopus)


    Talkers are recognized more accurately if they are speaking the listeners’ native language rather than an unfamiliar language. This “language familiarity effect” has been shown not to depend upon comprehension and must instead involve language sound patterns. We further examine the level of sound-pattern processing involved, by comparing talker recognition in foreign languages versus two varieties of English, by (a) English speakers of one variety, (b) English speakers of the other variety, and (c) non-native listeners (more familiar with one of the varieties). All listener groups performed better with native than foreign speech, but no effect of language variety appeared: Native listeners discriminated talkers equally well in each, with the native variety never outdoing the other variety, and non-native listeners discriminated talkers equally poorly in each, irrespective of the variety's familiarity. The results suggest that this talker recognition effect rests not on simple familiarity, but on an abstract level of phonological processing.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)633-645
    Number of pages13
    JournalCognitive Science
    Issue number2
    Early online date26 Jul 2017
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


    • talker recognition
    • language familiarity effect
    • native language
    • dialect
    • abstraction


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