Prosodic context in speech perception
When listeners process spoken language, they extract information about (1) segmental categories, defining the words intended by a speaker and (2) prosodic features, which convey information about prominence, grouping, and so on (i.e. how the words are said). These two parts of understanding spoken language are often studied as separate, however, their joint influence in structuring acoustic information in the speech signal suggests that they might interact in perception. This talk presents an exploration of one sort of interaction: the mediating influence of prosodic context on listeners’ interpretation of segmental contrasts. We will explore how both prosodic boundaries and prosodic prominence impact perception in this regard, testing how (1) boundaries shape the perception of temporal segmental contrasts in Japanese and Korean, and (2) how prominence shapes vowel perception in American English. For this latter test case, two visual-world eye-tracking studies are reported which further explore how listeners integrate contextual prominence cues as speech unfolds. Results are discussed in terms of what they tell us about the representation of different aspects of prosody in segmental processing, and more generally, how listeners tease apart different components of linguistic structure from a rich and time-varying speech signal.
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