The Role of Age and Bilingualism on Perception of Vocoded Speech

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This dissertation examines the role of age and bilingualism on perception of vocoded speech in order to determine whether bilingual individuals, children, and bilingual individuals with later ages of second language acquisition show greater difficulties in vocoded speech perception. Measures of language skill and verbal inhibition were also examined in relation to vocoded speech perception. Two studies were conducted, each of which had two participant language groups: Monolingual English speakers and bilingual Spanish-English speakers. The first study also explored the role of age at the time of testing by including both monolingual and bilingual children (8-10 years), and monolingual and bilingual adults (18+ years). As such, this study included four total groups of adult and child language pairs. Participants were tested on vocoded stimuli simulating speech as perceived through an 8-channel CI in conditions of both deep (0-mm shift) and shallow (6-mm shift) insertion of the electrode array. Between testing trials, participants were trained on the more difficult, 6-mm shift condition. The second study explored the role of age of second language acquisition in native speakers of Spanish (18+ years) first exposed to English at ages ranging from 0 to 12 years. This study also included a control group of monolingual English speakers (18+ years). This study examined perception of target lexical items presented either in isolation or at the end of sentences. Stimuli in this study were either unaltered or vocoded to simulate speech as heard through an 8-channel CI at 0-mm shift. Items presented in isolation were divided into differing levels of difficulty based on frequency and neighborhood density. Target items presented at the ends of sentences were divided into differing levels of difficulty based on the degree of semantic context provided by the sentence. No effects of age at testing or age of acquisition were found. In the first study, there was also no effect of language group. All groups improved with training and showed significant improvement between pre- and post-test speech perception scores in both conditions of shift. In the second study, all participants were significantly negatively impacted by vocoding; however, bilingual participants showed greater difficulty in perception of vocoded lexical items presented in isolation relative to their monolingual peers. This group difference was not found in sentence conditions, where all participants significantly benefited from greater semantic context. From this, we can conclude that bilingual individuals can make use of semantic context to perceive vocoded speech similarly to their monolingual peers. Neither language skills nor verbal inhibition, as measured in these studies, were found to significantly impact speech perception scores in any of the tested conditions across groups.