ICS Colloquium: Alba Tuninetti, PhD, University of Colorado Boulder

Title: Novel word learning: Interactions with first language (L1) properties

Presenter: Dr. Alba Tuninetti, Associate Director, Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado Boulder

Abstract: Across the lifespan, cross-situational word learning (CSWL; an implicit learning paradigm requiring learners to statistically track word-referent pairs across ambiguous conditions) is a powerful way of instantiating novel (e.g., L2) word learning (Junttila & Ylinen, 2020; Tuninetti, Mulak, & Escudero, 2020; Yu & Smith, 2007). In this talk, I will cover some of my lab’s recent work examining the properties of the first language (L1) that affect novel word learning in adults. Some of our work has shown that phonetic similarities between the L1 and L2 can affect retention of novel words, in line with models of phonetic similarity (e.g., PAM-L2; Best & Tyler, 2007). In particular, minimal pairs (pairs of words that share phonetic similarity except for one phoneme; e.g., rock & lock) are learned to a less accurate degree that non-minimal pairs; within minimal pairs, those that are ‘easier’ based on similarity to the L1 phonetics are learned more accurately than those that are ‘harder’ in a computerized learning task (Tuninetti, Mulak, & Escudero, 2020). Importantly, because minimal pairs vary in phonetics between each other (‘across-lexical unit’ characteristics), it is unclear how the phonetic characteristics of the words themselves (‘within-lexical unit’ characteristics) affect this type of novel word learning and retention. Recent work in my lab operationalized Turkish vowel harmony to this end, examining how different Turkish vowel harmony rules in bisyllabic novel words were learned in a behavioral and EEG/ERP paradigm examining the N400 response. Results show that accuracy is high regardless of harmony type, but that non-native Turkish speakers show better accuracy for harmonious words overall, whereas native Turkish speakers show differences based on the type of vowel harmony. The N400 study was conducted only with Turkish speakers and also showed differences in N400 amplitude based on the type of vowel harmony (Müftüoğlu & Tuninetti, in prep). These results speak to the idea that learning novel (e.g., L2) words is not only heavily influenced by L1 properties, but also by properties of the words themselves.

Bio: Dr. Tuninetti is the Associate Director of the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is a psycholinguist/neurolinguist whose research focuses on second language learning (L2) and multilingual speech perception. Prior to joining ICS, Dr. Tuninetti served as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Bilkent University (Ankara, Turkey). She also taught at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour, & Development at Western Sydney University (Sydney, Australia) and was a member of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. She completed her PhD in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA, USA) and completed a certificate in Neuroscience from the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (Pittsburgh, PA, USA).


Friday, February 10 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Muenzinger Psychology, D430
1905 Colorado Avenue, Boulder, CO 80309

Event Type



Science & Technology, Research & Innovation


Students, Faculty, Alumni, Graduate Students, Postdoc

College, School & Unit

Graduate School


ICS, ICSColloquiaSeries



Institute of Cognitive Science


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