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Syllables in speech production: Effects of syllable preparation and syllable frequency

Cholin, J. (2004). Syllables in speech production: Effects of syllable preparation and syllable frequency. PhD Thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen.
The fluent production of speech is a very complex human skill. It requires the coordination of several articulatory subsystems. The instructions that lead articulatory movements to execution are the result of the interplay of speech production levels that operate above the articulatory network. During the process of word-form encoding, the groundwork for the articulatory programs is prepared which then serve the articulators as basic units. This thesis investigated whether or not syllables form the basis for the articulatory programs and in particular whether or not these syllable programs are stored, separate from the store of the lexical word-forms. It is assumed that syllable units are stored in a so-called 'mental syllabary'. The main goal of this thesis was to find evidence of the syllable playing a functionally important role in speech production and for the assumption that syllables are stored units. In a variant of the implicit priming paradigm, it was investigated whether information about the syllabic structure of a target word facilitates the preparation (advanced planning) of a to-be-produced utterance. These experiments yielded evidence for the functionally important role of syllables in speech production. In a subsequent row of experiments, it could be demonstrated that the production of syllables is sensitive to frequency. Syllable frequency effects provide strong evidence for the notion of a mental syllabary because only stored units are likely to exhibit frequency effects. In a last study, effects of syllable preparation and syllable frequency were investigated in a combined study to disentangle the two effects. The results of this last experiment converged with those reported for the other experiments and added further support to the claim that syllables play a core functional role in speech production and are stored in a mental syllabary.

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