Emotional prosody and accent processing: a bilingual perspective

Ürgen, Burcu Ayşen
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Bilkent University
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People use different kinds of cues to process and understand spoken language in their daily lives. Understanding language is not solely based on the process-ing of grammar and words but also the processing of paralinguistic (non-verbal aspects of spoken language) cues, which have an important role in the ultimate comprehension of spoken language. Emotional prosody is one of the crucial par-alinguistic cues and is the focus of the present thesis. It refers to verbal cues that convey different types of emotions based on changing pitch, timbre and tone of voice during speech. Different theories attempt to explain how emotional prosody and its related cues are cognitively processed during speech comprehension, such as the Universality Hypothesis, the In-group Advantage hypothesis and Dialect Theory. This thesis examined the processing of two different paralinguistic cues (emotional prosody and accent) and were discussed within the perspective of these theories. This study had 3 main research questions: (1) how do bilingual individuals differently process emotional prosody and different accents in their first (L1) and second (L2) languages? (2) How do different accents affect the emotional comprehension of L1 and L2 speakers? and (3) is the processing of vocal emotions universal or does it include culturally-specific aspects? Bilingual Turkish-English participants were tasked with listening to sentences in either their L1 (Turkish) or L2 (English) that varied in their emotional prosody (happy, sad, neutral tones of voice) and their accent (accented Turkish; accented English). Electroencephalography (EEG) recordings were taken to measure the P200 event-related potential response, which indexes automatic emotional processing and has been shown to vary between first and second languages. The results showed that Turkish-English bilingual individuals showed higher P200 amplitudes when they heard emotionally vocalized sentences in their L1 compared to sentences vocal-ized with neutral tone of voice, regardless of the accent. However, in their L2, they showed higher P200 amplitudes for neutral sentences compared to emotion-ally vocalized sentences. Overall, these results propose that the nativelikeness of the stimuli is crucial to emotional prosody processing (in line with the In-Group Advantage hypothesis), such that we process emotional information more auto-matically in our L1, regardless of the speaker.

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Accent processing, Bilingualism, EEG, Emotional prosody
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