Listeners track talker-specific prosody to deal with talker-variability


One of the challenges in speech perception is that listeners must deal with considerable segmental and suprasegmental variability in the acoustic signal due to differences between talkers. Most previous studies have focused on how listeners deal with segmental variability. In this EEG experiment, we investigated whether listeners track talker-specific usage of suprasegmental cues to lexical stress to recognize spoken words correctly. In a three-day training phase, Dutch participants learned to map non-word minimal stress pairs onto different object referents (e.g., USklot meant “lamp”; usKLOT meant “train”). These non-words were produced by two male talkers. Critically, each talker used only one suprasegmental cue to signal stress (e.g., Talker A used only F0 and Talker B only intensity). We expected participants to learn which talker used which cue to signal stress. In the test phase, participants indicated whether spoken sentences including these non-words were correct (“The word for lamp is…”). We found that participants were slower to indicate that a stimulus was correct if the non-word was produced with the unexpected cue (e.g., Talker A using intensity). That is, if in training Talker A used F0 to signal stress, participants experienced a mismatch between predicted and perceived phonological word-forms if, at test, Talker A unexpectedly used intensity to cue stress. In contrast, the N200 amplitude, an event-related potential related to phonological prediction, was not modulated by the cue mismatch. Theoretical implications of these contrasting results are discussed. The behavioral findings illustrate talker-specific prediction of prosodic cues, picked up through perceptual learning during training.

Brain Research, 1769, 147605, doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2021.147605
Giulio Severijnen
Giulio Severijnen
PhD student

My research interests include between-talker variability, speech perception, and prosody.

Hans Rutger Bosker
Hans Rutger Bosker
Assistant Professor

My research interests include speech perception, audiovisual integration, and prosody.