Thomas St. Pierre

I received my PhD in Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University at Buffalo (UB). I've taught Linguistics and German for the UB Linguistics department, as well as ESL courses in the Intensive English Institute at Ball State University and the American Language Program at Columbia University. I am currently a postdoctoral fellow in Elizabeth Johnson's Child Language and Speech Studies Lab, and teach psychology courses at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Scroll down to find out about my research!


Research

Summary

We encounter language with highly variable surface forms all the time, be it from the imprecise productions of a toddler, the synthesized speech of Alexa, or the error-filled utterances of a speaker newly acquiring a second language. Broadly speaking, my research looks at how children navigate this variability as they acquire the linguistic structure of their first language(s). I investigate how children learn/represent language variability and make use of it to guide language processing, draw inferences about people they encounter, and index their identity.

Learning & representing variability: For my dissertation (conducted with adults), I examined whether listeners can learn (and come to predict) consistent lexical (e.g., calling a set of headphones 'speakers') and syntactic (e.g., 'Where *is the jeans?') errors in L2 speech, and to what extent this learning generalizes to multiple speakers. I am currently extending this research to young children, investigating their abilities to learn consistent errors in preposition use. In work with older children, I am looking at when children begin to associate particular lexical items with particular regional accents (e.g., can children learn to predict a British-accented speaker will say 'chips' while a North-American-accented speaker will say 'French fries'?).

Making social inferences from variability: Children learn to make inferences about speakers based on characteristics in their speech. So far, my research has primarily focused on children's evaluations of L2 speakers of English - including how much children trust and want to be friends with L2 speakers - and factors that influences those evaluations. I am further interested in the malleability of children’s language attitudes, both in experimental and classroom settings.

Indexing identity & social relationships via alignment: I'm also interested in how children vary their own language in order to index their identity and relationships. I investigate children's phonetic alignment patterns to their mothers across development, and how it is influenced by children's gender. Additionally, I look at how children’s linguistic alignment behaviour is modulated by group membership, examining whether Canadian children are more likely to linguistically align to in-group members compared to out-group members along several linguistic dimensions, including lexical (e.g., 'toque' vs. 'hat'), phonetic (pa-JAH-mas vs. pa-JAM-as) and syntactic ('Mom gave me a lollipop' vs. 'Mom gave a lollipop to me'), using both arbitrary categories (e.g., red or green team) and pre-existing categories (e.g., girl/boy, child/adult).

Publications

St. Pierre, T., Cooper, A., & Johnson, E. K. (in press). Cross-generational phonetic alignment between mothers and their children. Language Learning and Development.

St. Pierre, T., & Johnson, E. K. (2021). Looking for wugs in all the right places: Children's learning of novel words using prepositions. Cognitive Science, e13028. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.13028

St. Pierre, T., & Johnson, E. K. (2020). The development of accent-based friendship preferences: Age and language exposure matter. Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Toronto, ON. https://cogsci.mindmodeling.org/2020/papers/0639/0639.pdf

St. Pierre, T., White, K., & Johnson, E. K. (submitted). Does experimenter accent influence children's behavior in the marshmallow task? Developmental Psychology.

St. Pierre, T., & Koenig, J.-P. (first round revision). When one speaker's broccoli is another speaker's cauliflower: The real-time processing of multiple speaker vocabularies. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience.

St. Pierre, T., Malone, A., & van Heugten, M. (in prep). Who did it? Children’s mapping of (non)native speech to (im)moral puppets. Developmental Science.

St. Pierre, T., & Koenig, J.-P. (in prep). Syntactic adaptation to consistent errors in non-native speech. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

Ronfard, S., St. Pierre, T., White, K. S., & Johnson, E. K. (In prep). Children's testing of surprising claims: Does the language background of the informant matter? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Selected Presentations

St. Pierre, T., Galytskyy, M., & Johnson, E. K. (2021, November). 'And togezer vee vill rule ze world!' The interplay between children's language attitudes and media representations of foreign accents. Poster presented at the 46th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, Boston, USA.

St. Pierre, T., & Johnson, E. K. (2021, July). The influence of media exposure on children's evaluations of non-local accents. Poster presented at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Vienna, Austria.

St. Pierre, T., White, K. S., & Johnson, E. K. (2021, July). 'Hello! *What your name?' Children's evaluations of ungrammatical speakers after live interaction. Poster presented at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Vienna, Austria.

St. Pierre, T., Nur, S., & Johnson, E. K. (2021, July). Looking for wugs in all the right places: Children's learning of novel words using prepositions. Poster presented at the 15th Congress of the International Association for the Study of Child Language, Philadelphia, PA.

St. Pierre, T., White, K. S., & Johnson, E. K. (2021, June). To wait or not to wait: How experimenter racial and linguistic background affect children's performance in a delayed gratification task. Talk presented at the 2021 Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science Annual Meeting, Montreal, QC.

St. Pierre, T., & Johnson, E. K. (2021, June). Their guess is not as good as ours: Children find in-group voices more believable but not more memorable. Poster presented at the 2021 Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science Annual Meeting, Montreal, Canada.

Ronfard, S., St. Pierre, T., White, K. S., & Johnson, E. K. (2021, April). Accent Matters: Children are less likely to investigate surprising claims provided by non-native speakers. Talk presented at the SRCD 2021 Biennial Meeting, Online.

St. Pierre, T., & Johnson, E. K. (2020, November). The influence of group membership on talker recognition. Talk presented at the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Virtual Meeting.

St. Pierre, T., & Johnson, E. K. (2020, July). The development of accent-based friendship preferences: age and language exposure matter. Poster presented at the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Toronto, ON.

St. Pierre, T., Nur, S., & Johnson, E. K. (2019, November). Do toddlers use prepositions to learn novel words? Poster presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Montreal, QC.

St. Pierre, T., & Koenig, J.-P. (2019, September). Generalizing L2 lexical errors to L1 speakers. Talk presented at PsyLinCS UTM Workshop, Mississauga, ON.

St. Pierre, T., & Koenig, J.-P. (2019, March). The Effect of Foreign Bias on Processing L2 English Speech. Poster presented at the 32nd Annual CUNY Sentence Processing Conference, Boulder, CO.

St. Pierre, T., & Koenig, J.-P. (2019, March). Recent exposure to errors from L2 speakers affects processing of L1 speech. Talk presented at the 2nd Annual Buffalo-Toronto Workshop, Toronto, ON.

St. Pierre, T., & Koenig, J.-P. (2018, September). Learning consistent gender errors in non-native speech. Poster presented at the Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing (AMLaP), Berlin, Germany.

St. Pierre, T., & Koenig, J.-P. (2018, April). Adapting to errors in L2 speech. Talk presented at the 1st Annual Buffalo-Toronto Workshop, Buffalo, NY.

St. Pierre, T., & Koenig, J.-P. (2018, March). Broccoli or *cauliflower? Adaptation to L2 lexical errors. Poster presented at the 31st Annual CUNY Sentence Processing Conference, Davis, CA.

St. Pierre, T., & Koenig, J.-P. (2018, March). Where *is the jeans? Adapting to L2 grammatical errors. Poster presented at the 31st Annual CUNY Sentence Processing Conference, Davis, CA.

St. Pierre, T. (2015, June). Do speakers use consistent L2 gender errors to anticipate upcoming nouns? Talk presented at the Forschungskolloquium (research colloquium), Cologne, Germany.


Teaching

Sole Instructor

Department of Psychology, University of Toronto Mississauga
  • Speech Perception and Production (Spring 2022)
  • Language Development (Fall 2021)
Department of Linguistics, University at Buffalo
  • Intro to Linguistic Analysis (Spring 2017)
  • Language in its Social Setting (Spring 2018)
  • Beginning German 1 and 2 (Fall 2013 - Fall 2017)
UB Curriculum, University at Buffalo
  • Capstone (Fall 2018 - May 2019)
American Language Program, Columbia University
  • English as an Additional Language (Summers 2013 - 2017)
Intensive English Institute, Ball State University
  • English as an Additional Language (Fall 2010 - Summer 2013)

Guest Lecture

Department of Psychology, University of Toronto Mississauga
Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto

CV

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Interests

I like hiking and I like taking pictures. Here are some pictures taken while hiking.