Graduation Year

2003

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Au.D.

Degree Granting Department

Audiology

Major Professor

Lister, Jennifer J.

Keywords

noise, reverberation, linguistic profile, language background, bilingualism, speech perception, virtual audiometry

Abstract

The accurate perception of spoken English is influenced by many variables, including the listener's native language, reverberation, and background noise. Few studies of speech perception by bilingual listeners have carefully controlled for second language proficiency and even fewer have presented speech in everyday listening environments that contain noise and reverberation. In the present study, detailed language background, language proficiency information, and individual language samples were collected and the speech stimuli were presented in a variety of quiet, noisy, and reverberant listening environments.

The effects of noise and reverberation on the perception of American English monosyllabic words was examined for two groups of young listeners with normal hearing: 1) monolingual American English speakers and 2) Spanish-English bilinguals who acquired both languages prior to age 6 years, exhibited similar spoken proficiency in both languages, and spoke English without a noticeable accent. An innovative test of virtual speech perception was used to assess word recognition in two listening environments typical of everyday communication: a simulated noisy anechoic environment and a simulated noisy reverberant environment. Word recognition was also measured in quiet and in an unprocessed noisy environment. For each noisy listening environment (unprocessed, anechoic, reverberant), three signal-to-noise ratios were employed. Results indicate that early bilingualism negatively affects perception of words presented in noisy listening environments.

Significantly poorer word recognition was observed for the bilingual listeners than for the monolingual listeners in all three noisy environments and at all noise levels. Both groups exhibited similar word recognition in quiet. The results were surprising considering the high level of spoken language proficiency exhibited by all bilingual listeners. It is often assumed that highly proficient Spanish-English speakers are equally proficient at understanding English; however, these data indicate that the speech understanding of this group may be overestimated in natural listening situations.

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