This paper deals with the influence of ambient speech on individual speech
productions. A methodological framework is defined to gather the experimental
data necessary to feed computer models simulating self-organisation in phonological
systems. Two experiments were carried out. Experiment 1 was run on
French native speakers from two regiolects of Belgium: two from Liège and two
from Brussels. When exposed to the way of speaking of the other regiolect via
loudspeakers, the speakers of one regiolect produced vowels that were significantly
different from their typical realisations, and significantly closer to the way
of speaking specific of the other regiolect. Experiment 2 achieved a replication of
the results for 8 Mons speakers hearing a Liège speaker. A significant part of the
imitative effect remained up to 10 min after the end of the exposure to the other
regiolect productions. As a whole, the results suggest that: (i) imitation occurs
automatically and unintentionally, (ii) the modified realisations leave a memory
trace, in which case the mechanism may be better defined as ‘mimesis’ than as
‘imitation’. The potential effects of multiple imitative speech interactions on sound
change are discussed in this paper, as well as the implications for a general theory
of phonetic implementation and phonetic representation.
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