Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
When listening to modified speech, either naturally or artificially altered, the human perceptual system rapidly adapts to it. There is some debate about the nature of the mechanisms underlying this adaptation. Although some authors propose that listeners modify their prelexical representations, others assume changes at the lexical level. Recently, Larsson, Vera, Sebastian-Galles, and Deco [Lexical plasticity in early bilinguals does not alter phoneme categories: I. Neurodynamical modelling. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 76–94, 2008] proposed a biologically plausible computational model to account for some existing data, one which successfully modeled how long-term exposure to a dialect triggers the creation of new lexical entries. One specific prediction of the model was that prelexical (phoneme) representations should not be affected by dialectal exposure (as long as the listener is exposed to both standard and dialectal pronunciations). Here we present a series of experiments testing the predictions of the model. Native listeners of Catalan, with extended exposure to Spanish-accented Catalan, were tested on different auditory lexical decision tasks and phoneme discrimination tasks. Behavioral and electrophysiological recordings were obtained. The results supported the predictions of our model. On the one hand, both error rates and N400 measurements indicated the existence of alternative lexical entries for dialectal varieties. On the other hand, no evidence of alterations at the phoneme level, either in the behavioral discrimination task or in the electrophysiological measurement (MMN), could be detected. The results of the present study are compared with those obtained in short-term laboratory exposures in an attempt to provide an integrative account.