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Dissertation Oral Presentation

The role of experience on the cognitive underpinnings of linguistic bias: An interdisciplinary investigation of Miami-based Cuban American speech

Fri June 14th 2024, 10:00 - 11:15am
Location In person and online:
Terrace Room, Margaret Jacks Hall (Building 460, Room 426)


In this dissertation, I investigate the cognitive processes and architectures that underlie speech-based linguistic discrimination. Ultimately, I argue that linguistic and social experiences mediate category structure, and that differently structured categories modulate speech production, perception, and bias patterns.

Speech-based discrimination is associated with linguistic variation in production. Thus, I first inquire about the cognitive systems behind speech variation by analyzing the acoustic patterns of TRAM, TRAP, /l/, (DH), and rhythm realizations within the Cuban American community in Miami, FL. I show that social factors can reflect differences in experience, which shape individual speakers’ cognitive representations and make speech variation in production possible.

Building on these production patterns, I study how listeners use variation in Miami-based Cuban American speech for person construal. I find that listeners’ social and linguistic experiences structure their racial/ethnic perception of speakers. Both Miami-based Cuban American and General American listeners display a range of ethnic/racial perception, though they attend to different social and linguistic cues. Moreover, listeners’ perceptions were tied to linguistic patterns, not individual speakers, such that the same speakers were perceived variably across phrases.

Finally, I ask how two listener groups make stereotyped associations based on perceived speaker identity in a speeded association task. While both Miami-based Cuban Americans and Midwestern listeners exhibited a whiteness bias, quickly associating perceived non-Hispanic white speech with white stereotypes, Midwestern listeners exhibited more biased responses. This study again underscores that experience impacts the implicit biases listeners hold about speakers. 

Across all three studies, the role of experience emerges as an important force in shaping language production, perception, and bias. The results support a cognitive architecture that integrates social information pre-comprehension via a socioacoustic memory. This architecture suggests that experience with diverse populations and their speech has the potential to decrease linguistic discrimination.