How well can listeners distinguish dialects and unfamiliar languages?

Neil W. Kirk, Vera Kempe*, Kenneth Scott-Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


    Although the ability to identify dialects and languages is regarded as crucial for establishing geographical and social group membership of interlocutors, the use of indexical features of speech has so far received little attention in psycholinguistic research. In this study, participants from various linguistic backgrounds heard words pronounced either in Standard Scottish English or in local Scots dialect and had to distinguish them by variety. Results showed that after just a few months of exposure participants were able to reliably distinguish both Scottish varieties, regardless of native language. More surprisingly, participants with no noteworthy exposure to two unfamiliar varieties – Russian and German – performed above chance when assigning cognates and interlingual homophones to either language based on accent. These findings demonstrate that adults can rapidly acquire implicit knowledge about the phonetic properties of different linguistic varieties. Future research will explore which specific cues and which cognitive pre-requisites facilitate this ability
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013
    Event54th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomics Society - Sheraton Cenre Hotel, Toronto, Canada
    Duration: 14 Nov 201317 Nov 2013
    Conference number: 54


    Conference54th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomics Society
    Abbreviated titlePsychonomics
    Internet address


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