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Marco van de Ven successfully defends PhD
On November 2, Marco van de Ven successfully defended his thesis 'The role of acoustic detail and context in the comprehension of reduced pronunciation variants'. In his dissertation, he investigated which types of information contribute to the recognition of words in everyday listening situations, and to what extent.
November 10, 2011
How do people comprehend speech in everyday listening situations? In casual speech, we do not pronounce all the segments and syllables of the words we use. For example, the English words yesterday and probably may sound like yesyay and proly, and the Dutch eigenlijk ('actually') and natuurlijk ('of course') may be pronounced like eik and tuuk. How do listeners deal with these reductions?
Previous studies have shown that listeners need contextual information to understand highly reduced words. But it remained unclear how context is used, how the acoustic properties of highly reduced words are used, and how these two elements interact during speech comprehension.
To address these questions, Marco van de Ven conducted a series of psycholinguistic experiments, focusing on Dutch and English, to investigate the roles of three types of contextual information: semantic/syntactic information and acoustic information in the context, and acoustic information in the reduced variant itself.
His results indicate that contextual information plays an important role during the recognition of the reduced pronunciation variants that occur in casual speech. However, listeners can predict these variants in no more than 30% of the cases. In the remaining cases, they also require the acoustic information from the reduced variants themselves.
Listeners use especially the consonants (rather than the vowels) from reduced pronunciation variants to recognise these variants. In fact, listeners need less segmental information to recognise reduced variants if the first, unstressed vowel is missing, Van de Ven notes in his thesis. "Apparently, listeners can compensate these missing vowels by means of the following consonants that become availabe more quickly."
Interestingly, listeners are not aware of the reduced pronunciation variants that occur in casual speech.