Implicit attitudes and the perception of sociolinguistic variation

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We investigated individual differences in processing the social dimensions of speech, addressing whether the degree of implicit stereotypical attitude towards language variants modulates brain activity during comprehension. Subjects listened to spoken stories, in which sentence-final critical words were manipulated for <sc>ing/in</sc>&#8217; variant which was congruent/incongruent with the variants in the preceding discourse and which was typical/atypical of speaker dialect. Subjects participated in an Implicit Association Test as a measure of language attitudes towards <sc>ing/in</sc>&#8217; variation and were classified as high or low stereotype. Results showed that listeners with low IAT scores had higher N400-like negativities while processing word variants that violated dialectal expectancies (<sc>ing</sc> uttered by a Southern speaker and <sc>in</sc>&#8217; spoken by a Californian). Our results provide evidence that the cognitive mechanisms that support language comprehension are sensitive not just to <i>what</i> is said, but also to <i>how</i> it is said, <i>who</i> says it, and <i>who</i> hears it.


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