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Shannon Barrios

Shannon L. Barrios  

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Utah and co-director the Speech Acquisition Lab.

Prior to coming to the U, I was a graduate student in the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Lab in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Maryland where I worked with Bill Idsardi and Naomi Feldman. I participated in the University of Maryland's interdisciplinary graduate training program title "Biological and Computational Foundations of Language Diversity," which is supported by the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program.  


My research examines the role of existing phonological knowledge in the representation and processing of nonnative input. It combines insight from phonological theory, psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics in order to better understand the nature and persistence of cross-language influence in speech perception, spoken word recognition, and the acquisition of an L2 sound system.

Not all nonnative contrasts are equally easy to perceive and acquire.  To account for this, theories of speech perception often appeal to notions of "similarity."  Some of my research has focused on pinning down the appropriate measure of phonological similarity and investigating whether the influence of the native language can be overcome.  

Together with collaborators, Nan Jiang and Bill Idsardi, I have investigated whether L1 phonological features can be reused to represent non-native contrasts in the second language (Brown, 1998, 2000), and to what extent new phonological structure might be acquired.  We explored this hypothesis by examining the phonetic perception and lexical representation of non-native vowel contrasts by advanced L1 Spanish late-learners of English.  Our results across two tasks converge to suggest that second language acquisition of phonology is not constrained by the phonological features made available by the learner's native language grammar, nor is the presence/use of particular phonological features in the native language grammar sufficient to trigger redeployment.  Our findings suggest that feature availability is neither a necessary, nor a sufficient condition to predict learning outcomes.

Shannon Barrios, Nan Jiang, and William J Idsardi. Similarity in L2 Phonology: Evidence from L1 Spanish late-learners’ perception and lexical representation of English vowel contrasts.  Second Language Research February 18, 2016; DOI:10.1177/0267658316630784

In addition to learning new sounds, second language learners must establish new phonological relationships.  For example, despite the fact that the sounds [d] and [ð] (which correspond to the first sound in the words 'day' and 'they' respectively) exist in both Spanish and English, the function of these sounds differs in the two languages.  In English, the use of one or the other of these sounds can result in a difference in meaning, but not in Spanish.  A Spanish learner of English and an English learner of Spanish both face the task of learning a new phonological relations among these familiar speech sounds.  Moreover, the phonological relatedness between sounds of this sort impact listener's perception.  Two sounds are discriminated more readily and are perceived as less similar if they are used to distinguish meaning in a listener's native language (Boomershine et al, 2008; Pegg and Werker, 1997; Whalen et al., 1997; Kazanina et al., 2006, Harnsberger, 2001; Peperkamp et al., 2003).  Thus, it is possible that learners may experience difficulty acquiring these aspects of the second language sound system.  Both anecdotal and experimental evidence from speech production (Lado, 1957; Hammerly, 1982; Hardy, 1993; Zampini, 1996; Eckman et al., 2001, 2003) suggests that this learning situation presents considerable difficulty for second language learners. However, the acquisition of novel target language contrasts between L1 context-dependent allophones has not been adequately explored from the perspective of L2 speech perception.  

Using behavioral methods and magnetoencephalography (MEG), my collaborators (Anna Namyst, Ellen Lau, Naomi Feldman, and Bill Idsardi) and I investigated whether second language learners acquire new phonological relationships and how their ability to perceive and acquire these contrasts might be influenced by native language phonological relations.  Our results suggest that phonological relatedness influences perceived similarity, as evidenced by the results of the native speaker groups, but may not cause persistent difficulty for advanced L2 learners. Instead, L2 learners are able to use cues that are present in their input to establish new mappings between familiar phones.

Shannon Barrios, Anna Namyst, Ellen Lau, Naomi Feldman, and William Idsardi. (2016) Establishing New Mappings between Familiar Phones: Neural and Behavioral Evidence for Early Automatic Processing of Nonnative Contrasts. Front. Psychol. 7:995. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00995



It has been well attested that infants and adults are able to take advantage of statistical distributional information to acquire phonemes (Maye et al., 2002; Hayes-Harb, 2007) and that infants can learn novel phonological alternations on the basis of phonological distributional information (White et al., 2008). Less is known about the way in which adult second language (L2) learners acquire allophonic relationships. In collaboration with graduate student, Taylor Anne Barriuso, I investigated the role of a phonological distributional mechanism in a controlled experimental context. We asked whether naïve subjects were able to utilize phonological distributional information to determine whether two phones belong to separate phonemes or a single phoneme. We exposed native English speakers to one of two artificial languages in which two acoustically similar sounds ([b] and [β]) occurred in either overlapping or complementary distribution. After the exposure phase, participants completed an ABX discrimination task. Unexpectedly, participants did not perform differentially on the task depending on their exposure type, failing to provide evidence for the use of a phonological distributional mechanism in adult L2 allophonic acquisition.

Barriuso, T.A. and S. Barrios. (2017). The role of phonological distributional information on the acquisition of L2 allophones. In M. O’Brien & J. Levis (Eds). Proceedings of the 8th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, ISSN 2380-9566, Calgary, AB, August 2016 (pp. 10-20). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

  More details coming soon...



Caiti Hunting (BA, UROP summer 2019)

Cailey Lloyd (BA Honors, UROP summer 2019)

Billy Finlay (BA, UROP spring 2019)

Taylor Anne Barriuso (2018, PhD)

Joselyn Rodriguez (BA, UROP summer 2017)

Last Updated: 5/29/19