The impact of auditory feedback on error monitoring and phonetic category representation in a second language
Emmy-Noether (DFG), 2015-2018 (3+1+1)
Learners of a foreign language (L2) often retain pronunciation errors even after extensive experience with the target language. The proposed project aims at explaining the apparent paradox that, frequently, learners are able to perceive pronunciation errors of fellow learners, yet they are unable to correct the same errors in their own production. Although a large amount of research is concerned with socio-economic factors affecting suboptimal attainment in learning an L2, cognitive factors involving general mechanisms of speech processing remain widely unexplored. None of the current models of L2 sound acquisition sufficiently accounts for a persistent perception-production asymmetry in the L2. The proposed project will close this gap by assessing two potential causes for this asymmetry: (1) deficits in using auditory feedback for error monitoring, and (2) the nature of phonetic category representations. (1) will address how familiarity with certain errors affects awareness of these errors and hence the ability to correct them in one’s own speech. (2) will determine how experience with certain mispronunciations affects the association between phonetic categories and lexical representations. It will also assess whether newly established L2 categories that are not present in the native language (L1) or L1 categories that are not present in the L2, nevertheless affect flexibility perception and production in both languages. The long-term significance of the project is that it contributes to a central debate in cognitive neuroscience and speech processing about the relation of speech production and perception. It will reveal the workings of auditory feedback and error monitoring in L2 processing. In addition, it has the potential to inform strategies in language teaching.