2.1. Identifying Accents and Talkers
Language attitude studies have investigated how listeners use the indexical information embedded in the speech signal to draw inferences about speakers’ regional or social background (Giles 1970
; Giles and Powesland 1975
). Work in perceptual dialectology has provided further evidence that listeners are sensitive to regional variation by examining naive listeners’ perception of dialect boundaries. In a seminal study, Preston
) gave American English speakers maps of the United States and asked them to label the places where they judged people to speak differently. This technique also enabled elicitation of attitudes towards the selected accents (see also Preston 1996
). Crucially, this work showed that, in general terms, listeners agree on the attitudes and stereotypes associated with the accents. However, more recent research has revealed that the social meaning of accent features emerges in the context of language use: the particular accent features listeners tune into and how these are evaluated depend on other perceived characteristics of the speaker (Campbell-Kibler 2011
; Levon 2014
; Montgomery and Moore 2018
; Pharao et al. 2014
) and the background of the listener (Jaeger and Weatherholtz 2016
). Other studies have shown that listeners can group speakers according to regional accent but that this is affected by listeners’ own accent background and their experience with a given accent. In a series of studies, Clopper and Pisoni
) presented American listeners with sentences read by talkers from six different American English dialects in a forced-choice categorisation task and found that listeners were able to distinguish broad dialect categories (New England, South and South Midland and North Midland and West). Performance in these tasks was modulated by participants’ background: listeners who had lived in different areas performed better than those who had only lived in one area and, additionally, listeners who lived in a particular region performed better with the accent from that region. These results were taken to mean that greater exposure to linguistic variation and specific experience with one variety benefit accent categorisation. Similar results have been found using free classification tasks (Clopper 2008
; Clopper and Pisoni 2007
Listeners are not only sensitive to variation that signals geographical origin but also other social factors, including ethnicity. Using a matched-guise technique, Purnell et al.
) showed that landlords discriminated against prospective tenants based on the inferences they made about the speaker’s ethnicity from hearing their accent on the phone. Baugh referred to this as ‘linguistic profiling’, a process “based upon auditory cues that may be used to identify an individual or individuals as belonging to a linguistic subgroup within a given speech community, including a racial subgroup” (Baugh 2000, p. 363
). There is extensive evidence that listeners are sensitive to variation and use it to evaluate speakers, but less is known about the levels of processing involved in the extraction and use of indexical information. Using a neuroimaging technique, magnetoencephalography (MEG), Scharinger et al.
) presented listeners with the sentence-initial ‘hello’ tokens from Purnell et al.
) to investigate when the change in accents was detected. Results from the mismatch negativity (MMN) response to accent changes showed that the extraction of accent features occurs very rapidly and is pre-attentive, categorical and speaker-independent. The authors propose that, given that the stimuli presented were acoustically variable, accent extraction involves a process of abstraction by which low-level acoustic information is mapped to a memory trace associated with a phonetic feature which is linked to a social category, in this case, accent background. Another important finding from this study is that accent information appears to be processed in the same way as speaker voice information. A recent study has provided further evidence that indexical information is processed at a relatively early stage. Although research that presented listeners with synthetic speech had suggested that non-linguistic information is ignored at early stages of processing, Tuninetti et al.
) found that when presented with natural speech, listeners are sensitive to indexical information (gender and regional background) at an unattended low level of processing.
An interesting question that emerges from this research is concerned with when in development listeners start to acquire the sociolinguistic competence that enables them to identify the regional and social background of talkers by associating a set of phonetic features with a social category. Studies using free classification tasks have shown that non-native listeners (Clopper and Bradlow 2009
), and children, some as early as the age of 4–5 years old (Jones et al. 2017
), are also able to group speakers into broader accent categories, although they are less accurate than adult native listeners. These results suggest that indexical and phonological categories are acquired together in first (L1) and second language (L2) acquisition (Clopper and Bradlow 2009
One category that listeners learn to discriminate very early on is that of their native language. Nazzi et al.
) used a head-turn preference procedure to show that 5-month-old American infants could always discriminate between languages either when their native language was one of the two languages presented or when the two foreign languages belonged to different rhythmic classes (e.g., Japanese vs. Italian), but not when the two foreign languages belonged to the same rhythmic class (e.g., Italian vs. Spanish). In a similar study, Butler et al.
) showed that 5-month-old infants were able to discriminate between their native (South-West English) accent and an unfamiliar regional accent (Welsh English), but were unable to differentiate two unfamiliar regional accents (Welsh English and Scottish English).
Indeed, other research suggests that the ability to discriminate unfamiliar accents does not develop until later in life. Girard et al.
) showed that 5–6-year-old French-speaking children distinguished their own accent from a foreign accent, but could still not discriminate between different regional varieties of French. These findings indicate that, at this age, young children have not yet developed fine-grained perceptual representations for regional accents, at least based on the varieties tested here. Floccia et al.
) replicated this result in a similar study with British children and suggested that the acoustic distance between the accents could have played a role in children’s discrimination patterns. They demonstrated that consonant differences between the native and the foreign accent were larger and interpreted this finding to mean that foreign accents introduce greater distortions to the signal than regional accents making the accent itself more distinctive. Similar results were found for American children, aged 5–6 years old, who were able to discriminate their native accent from an L2 accent (Indian English, produced by speakers who acquired English as an L2), but who were unable to discriminate between their native and a regional accent, or a regional vs. L2 accent (Wagner et al. 2014
). Based on these findings, it has been hypothesized that children have a gradient representation of dialect variation with representations organised relative to the native accent, such that those a greater distance apart are easier to discriminate (Wagner et al. 2014
Much less research has examined accent identification in the context of bilingual communities. Evans and Tomé Lourido
) replicated Wagner et al.
)’s study with monolingual children in London, U.K., but also showed that bilingual children were able to discriminate talkers in all three conditions (native vs. regional, regional vs. L2 and native vs. L2), suggesting that early experience with variation benefits identification of talkers from different language backgrounds. Arguably, bilingual children had more exposure to variation in a community where that variation is useful in identifying talkers and navigating relationships (Evans and Tomé Lourido 2019, p. 156
), and this most likely led to an earlier development of sociolinguistic awareness in comparison to monolingual peers.
Studies with adult bilingual listeners additionally show that identification is affected by listeners’ identity as well as experience. Tan
) investigated whether Singaporean bilingual listeners were able to identify the ethnicity of English-Chinese, English-Malay and English-Tamil bilingual speakers. The results showed that listeners identified Chinese speakers more accurately than Malay and Indian speakers, in this order. The author argues that the findings could be explained by the amount of exposure listeners had to the different accents; Singaporean-Chinese speakers make up most of the population and, therefore, listeners in the community are likely to hear this variety more frequently. There was also a significant effect of age; younger Singaporeans were less accurate than older Singaporeans. The author suggests that the younger group may have a more national-based, rather than ethnic-based identity, compared to the older group and their performance may reflect this link between their own identity and perception. In a minority language context, Mayr et al.
) showed that both Welsh-English bilinguals and English monolingual listeners from Wales were able to identify whether someone can speak Welsh on the basis of their accent in English above chance level, although performance was lower than in similar studies with L2 speakers. Listeners performed better with talkers from the same area of Wales as them, but there was no difference between bilingual and monolingual listeners (Mayr et al. 2020, p. 752
In the context of the current study, in which all listener groups are bilingual in Galician and Spanish, it is possible that, differences in language background will lead to differences in accent identification patterns. Given that the degree of distinctiveness will likely be more similar to that of regional than foreign accents as regardless of language dominance, all speakers will likely have a Galician accent (e.g., in contrast with L2 Galician speakers from a different part of Spain), how ‘Galician’ a speaker sounds will vary as a function of their language dominance (Amengual and Chamorro 2015
; Tomé Lourido and Evans 2019
; Aguete Cajiao 2019
), whether they come from an urban or rural environment (Mayr et al. 2019
; Tomé Lourido and Evans 2019
; Regueira and Fernández Rei 2020
) and other factors. As well as greater exposure with a given variety leading to better identification, the participants’ social background and aims may also influence identification patterns.
How might listeners store and consequently access indexical information during speech processing to enable them to group talkers into different social categories? As mentioned above, recent work has proposed that accent information is processed in the same way as speaker voice information (Scharinger et al. 2011
). Such work has highlighted the likely contribution of episodic memory in models of speech processing (e.g., Nygaard and Pisoni 1998
). Episodic models of lexical access propose that phonetic variation in the speech signal, such as indexical or talker information, is not discarded in speech perception, but instead is retained and stored in memory (Docherty and Foulkes 2014
; Goldinger 1998
). Indeed, it has been shown that listeners can use fine-grained phonetic information, such as VOT, to identify talkers (Allen and Miller 2004
). Additionally, work on talker identification has consistently shown a Language Familiarity Effect (LFE), i.e., listeners are better at identifying talkers in their native language (e.g., Fleming et al. 2014
; Goggin et al. 1991
; Perrachione et al. 2011
; Thompson 1987
; Levi 2019
). For example, Goggin et al.
) showed that monolingual English listeners were better at identifying English voices than German ones, and German listeners exhibited the opposite pattern. Similarly, English monolinguals were better at identifying English voices when compared to Spanish voices, with intermediate performance with Spanish-accented voices, but the pattern did not hold for English-Spanish bilinguals. One possible interpretation of these findings is that language familiarity is beneficial for voice recognition. However, whether this effect is related to language comprehension or familiarity with the phonological structure of the language is unclear.
Perrachione et al.
) examined whether knowledge of phonology played a role in voice recognition. In this experiment, dyslexic listeners, who have impaired phonological processing, identified voices in English (native language) and Chinese (unfamiliar language). Whilst the monolingual English control group were more accurate with the English voices, displaying a language familiarity effect, dyslexic listeners were no better able to identify English than Chinese talkers. These results led the authors to suggest that phonological representations are important for recognising speakers and that the process of voice recognition functions by comparing the segments in the input voice with the listener’s own phonological representations. Thus, voice recognition is more difficult when listeners cannot relate the speaker’s segments to their own representations because they are either missing (when they hear an unfamiliar language) or impaired (in the case of dyslexic listeners). On the other hand, Fleming et al.
) have argued that as the LFE is already apparent in 7–8-month-old infants (Johnson et al. 2011
; Nazzi et al. 2000
), who cannot understand speech, the effect could also be driven by experience with native phonological categories. Fleming et al.
) presented English and Chinese adult listeners with unintelligible time-reversed sentences in English and Mandarin, which they argued preserved phonological information but meant that the speech was unintelligible. Both listener groups rated pairs of native-language speakers as more dissimilar than foreign-language speakers, suggesting that the LFE is based not on comprehension, but on familiarity with the native language phonological system. With the aim of elucidating the underlying cause of the LFE, Johnson et al.
) claim that relative familiarity with a variety, i.e., the frequency of encountering talkers from that linguistic background, is not enough to account for the LFE, which is instead driven by ‘attunement’ to the underlying phonological structure. They tested this hypothesis by asking English listeners to identify talkers with a familiar and unfamiliar variety of English (Australian and North American English). They found no differences in performance between the two varieties, which supports the idea that familiarity alone does not account for the LFE. The authors argue that Australian and North American English share the same underlying abstract phonology and propose that it is the listeners’ ‘attunement’ to the phonology that drives this effect. However, they also point out that is not clear whether this would be the case for other varieties differing in their phonological structure, e.g., syllable structure, rhythm and that further research is needed to ‘map the boundaries of phonological attunement’ (Johnson et al. 2018, p. 643
In sum, although the ability to identify accents develops relatively late in life and at different rates in monolingual and bilingual communities, listeners use the indexical information embedded in the speech signal to draw inferences about speakers’ regional, social and language background. Additionally, listener’s ability to categorise talkers is likely affected by their own language background, experience and possibly even attitude towards a given variety. Finally, the ability to identify accents may function in a similar way to voice identification with both familiarity and ‘attunement’ to the phonological system playing a role.
2.2. The Neofalantes’ Accent as an Emerging Variety
New speakers in minority language communities have been defined as “individuals with little or no home or community exposure to a minority language but who instead acquire it through immersion or bilingual educational programs, revitalization projects or as adult language learners” (O’Rourke et al. 2015, p. 1
). They have been documented in most minority language communities in Europe: Ireland (O’Rourke and Ramallo 2010
; Walsh and O’Rourke 2014
), Wales (Robert 2009
), Scotland (McLeod and O’Rourke 2015
; Nance et al. 2016
; O’Rourke and Walsh 2015
), Isle of Man (Ó hIfearnáin 2015
), Provence (Costa 2015
), Brittany (Hornsby 2005
), Corsica (Jaffe 2015
), Galicia (O’Rourke and Ramallo 2010
; Ramallo 2013
; Ramallo and O’Rourke 2014
; Tomé Lourido and Evans 2015
; Aguete Cajiao 2019
; Regueira and Fernández Rei 2020
), Catalonia (Pujolar and Puigdevall 2015
; Woolard 2011
) and the Basque Country (Ortega et al. 2014
; Ortega et al. 2015
). Though this label is particularly useful in examining their sociolinguistic ideologies and practices, it is important to understand that they are a heterogeneous group from the point of view of language acquisition, ranging from early bilinguals with great exposure to the minority language to L2 learners with varying degrees of proficiency.
There is limited experimental research investigating the phonetics and phonology of new speakers of minority language communities. Nance
) and Nance et al.
) investigated the speech of Gaelic speakers in Scotland. Nance
) compared the speech of young adults attending Gaelic-medium secondary schools in Glasgow, an area with low numbers of Gaelic speakers, young adults attending Gaelic-medium secondary schools in the Isle of Lewis, an area with the densest concentration of Gaelic speakers and a group of older adults from Lewis who were considered ‘traditional speakers’. Young speakers from Glasgow differed from both young and older speakers on Lewis in the three phonetic variables investigated, the high back vowel /u/, the lateral system and intonation, suggesting that the new speakers’ variety is different from that of previous generations. However, when comparing the production of word-final rhotics by highly proficient urban adult new speakers and ‘traditional speakers’, Nance et al.
) found that some new speakers distinguished traditional Gaelic rhotic categories, but others did not. The variation in the new speaker group was not only accounted for by L1 interference, but also how they constructed their identity as Gaelic speakers.
(2015, p. 556
) states that the ‘new speaker’ label is not used by New Gaelic speakers themselves, but is instead an analytical label which has emerged from the minority language revitalisation literature. However, this is not the case in all communities. In Galicia, a bilingual community situated in the north west of the Iberian Peninsula, the new speakers’ group has become socially salient within certain spheres of Galician society, and the ‘neofalante’ label has been used beyond academia to designate the social group (O’Rourke and Ramallo 2011
; Ramallo 2013
; Tomé Lourido and Evans 2019
) such that it is sometimes used as a self-defining category by neofalantes (O’Rourke et al. 2015, p. 13
). For example, there is a Twitter account named ‘O neofalante
’, ‘The new speaker’ (Neofalante 2021
). Most Galician neofalantes are bilinguals who learn Spanish at home, but have early exposure to Galician and high competence in both languages. O’Rourke and Ramallo describe neofalantes as “individuals for whom Spanish was their language of primary socialization, but who at some stage in their lives (usually early to late-adolescence) have adopted Galician language practices and on occasions displaced Spanish all together” (O’Rourke and Ramallo 2015, p. 148
, see also O’Rourke and Ramallo 2010
; Ramallo 2010
; Ramallo and O’Rourke 2014
). O’Rourke and Ramallo
) and Ramallo
) suggest that neofalantes’ linguistic behaviour can contribute to the transformation of the sociolinguistic reality and characterise these speakers as proponents of social change, arguing for ‘neofalantismo’ as a social movement, with neofalantes an active minority, one in which “individuals or groups […] through their behaviour attempt to influence both the attitudes and practices of the majority and in doing so, bring about social change” (O’Rourke and Ramallo, p. 151).
Impressionistic descriptions of neofalantes’ speech have proposed that they use a Spanish-accented variety of Galician (Freixeiro Mato 2014
; González González 2008
; Ramallo 2010
), which has been referred to as ‘New Urban Galician’ (Novo galego urbano, Dubert García 2002
; González González 2008
; Regueira 1999a
; Vidal Figueroa 1997
). Tomé Lourido and Evans
) were the first to provide a detailed acoustic description of the variety of Galician used by neofalantes and also to examine potential differences in their perception of Galician with respect to other bilingual groups. Neofalantes in this study were early bilinguals who changed from being dominant in Spanish to speaking Galician almost exclusively in adolescence for ideological, political or socio-cultural reasons. A series of studies examined three variables which differ in Galician and Spanish: Galician mid-vowel contrasts /ε e/ and /ɔ o/, which are not contrastive in Spanish; the Galician contrast sibilant fricative contrast /s ʃ/, where Spanish only has /s/; and the reduction of word-final vowels, a Galician-specific feature. Neofalantes were compared to two early bilingual groups of Galician-dominant and Spanish-dominant speakers. For vowels, the perception tasks revealed that neofalantes’ performance on a mid-vowel identification task was not different from that of Spanish-dominants and was poorer than that of Galician-dominant listeners. For the fricative contrast, though the three groups had a categorical contrast between the two sibilants, Galician-dominants had an earlier boundary than both neofalantes and Spanish-dominant groups. In production, neofalantes also patterned with Spanish-dominant speakers in their realisation of mid vowels, neutralising the contrast, and sibilant fricatives, producing a smaller contrast than that of Galician-dominants. However, they patterned with Galician-dominants in the production of reduced final vowels, exhibiting a hybrid variety made up of a combination of traditional Galician and Spanish features.
What is yet to be established is whether Galician listeners can identify the neofalantes’ accent as a distinctive variety in the community, i.e., whether a particular set of linguistic features have become associated with the label. Agha
(2003, p. 231
) proposed the term ‘enregisterment’ to describe the “processes through which a linguistic repertoire becomes differentiable within a language as a socially recognized register of forms” (see also Silverstein 2003
). Since then, this term has been also used to describe the emergence of new accents. For example, Johnstone et al.
) and Johnstone and Kiesling
) investigated how a set of linguistic features which were not noticed by listeners at first, became linked to socio-economic class, then associated with a region and ‘enregistered’ as a dialect called ‘Pittsburghese’, spoken in the United States. In this case, the linguistic features associated with ‘Pittsburghese’ were highly enregistered, as they were overtly linked to specific sociolinguistic spaces and discussed in metalinguistic commentary. Although Tomé Lourido and Evans
) found no evidence that neofalantes produced phonetic features which were distinctively different from those of Galician- and Spanish- dominant bilinguals, it is possible that listeners in the community use other features not measured in that study to identify the neofalantes variety. The current study sets out to investigate this question using an accent identification task.