Uh and euh signal novelty for monolinguals and bilinguals: Evidence from children and adults

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Description: Previous research suggests that English monolingual children and adults can use speech disfluencies (e.g., uh) to predict that a speaker will name a novel object. To understand the origins of this ability, we tested 48 32-month-old children (monolingual English, monolingual French, bilingual English-French; Study 1) and 16 adults (bilingual English-French; Study 2). Our design leveraged the distinct realizations of English (uh) versus French (euh) disfluencies. In a preferential-looking paradigm, participants saw familiar-novel object pairs (e.g., doll-rel), labeled in either Fluent (“Look at the doll/rel!”), Disfluent Language-consistent (“Look at thee uh doll/rel!”), or Disfluent Language-inconsistent (“Look at thee euh doll/rel!”) sentences. All participants looked more at the novel object when hearing disfluencies, irrespective of their phonetic realization. These results suggest that listeners from different language backgrounds harness disfluencies to comprehend day-to-day speech, possibly by attending to their lengthening as a signal of speaker uncertainty. Stimuli and data are available at https://osf.io/qn6px/.

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