You are here: Home Publications Discriminability of sound contrasts in the face of speaker variation quantified

Discriminability of sound contrasts in the face of speaker variation quantified

Bergmann, C., Cristia, A., & Dupoux, E. (2016). Discriminability of sound contrasts in the face of speaker variation quantified. In Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 1331-1336). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.
How does a naive language learner deal with speaker variation irrelevant to distinguishing word meanings? Experimental data is contradictory, and incompatible models have been proposed. Here, we examine basic assumptions regarding the acoustic signal the learner deals with: Is speaker variability a hurdle in discriminating sounds or can it easily be ignored? To this end, we summarize existing infant data. We then present machine-based discriminability scores of sound pairs obtained without any language knowledge. Our results show that speaker variability decreases sound contrast discriminability, and that some contrasts are affected more than others. However, chance performance is rare; most contrasts remain discriminable in the face of speaker variation. We take our results to mean that speaker variation is not a uniform hurdle to discriminating sound contrasts, and careful examination is necessary when planning and interpreting studies testing whether and to what extent infants (and adults) are sensitive to speaker differences.

Supplementary materials

About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.


Street address
Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:   +31-24-3521911
Fax:        +31-24-3521213

Public Outreach Officer
Charlotte Horn