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Phonological abstraction without phonemes in speech perception

Mitterer, H., Scharenborg, O., & McQueen, J. M. (2013). Phonological abstraction without phonemes in speech perception. Cognition, 129, 356-361. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2013.07.011.
Recent evidence shows that listeners use abstract prelexical units in speech perception. Using the phenomenon of lexical retuning in speech processing, we ask whether those units are necessarily phonemic. Dutch listeners were exposed to a Dutch speaker producing ambiguous phones between the Dutch syllable-final allophones approximant [r] and dark [l]. These ambiguous phones replaced either final /r/ or final /l/ in words in a lexical-decision task. This differential exposure affected perception of ambiguous stimuli on the same allophone continuum in a subsequent phonetic-categorization test: Listeners exposed to ambiguous phones in /r/-final words were more likely to perceive test stimuli as /r/ than listeners with exposure in /l/-final words. This effect was not found for test stimuli on continua using other allophones of /r/ and /l/. These results confirm that listeners use phonological abstraction in speech perception. They also show that context-sensitive allophones can play a role in this process, and hence that context-insensitive phonemes are not necessary. We suggest there may be no one unit of perception
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