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Prediction of agreement and phonetic overlap shape sublexical identification

Martin, A. E., Monahan, P. J., & Samuel, A. G. (2016). Prediction of agreement and phonetic overlap shape sublexical identification. Language and Speech. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0023830916650714.
The mapping between the physical speech signal and our internal representations is rarely straightforward. When faced with uncertainty, higher-order information is used to parse the signal and because of this, the lexicon and some aspects of sentential context have been shown to modulate the identification of ambiguous phonetic segments. Here, using a phoneme identification task (i.e., participants judged whether they heard [o] or [a] at the end of an adjective in a noun–adjective sequence), we asked whether grammatical gender cues influence phonetic identification and if this influence is shaped by the phonetic properties of the agreeing elements. In three experiments, we show that phrase-level gender agreement in Spanish affects the identification of ambiguous adjective-final vowels. Moreover, this effect is strongest when the phonetic characteristics of the element triggering agreement and the phonetic form of the agreeing element are identical. Our data are consistent with models wherein listeners generate specific predictions based on the interplay of underlying morphosyntactic knowledge and surface phonetic cues.
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