Smith, M. R., Cutler, A., Butterfield, S., & Nimmo-Smith, I.
(1989). The perception of rhythm and word boundaries in noise-masked speech. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 32, 912-920.
The present experiment tested the suggestion that human listeners may exploit durational information in speech to parse continuous utterances into words. Listeners were presented with six-syllable unpredictable utterances under noise-masking, and were required to judge between alternative word strings as to which best matched the rhythm of the masked utterances. For each utterance there were four alternative strings: (a) an exact rhythmic and word boundary match, (b) a rhythmic mismatch, and (c) two utterances with the same rhythm as the masked utterance, but different word boundary locations. Listeners were clearly able to perceive the rhythm of the masked utterances: The rhythmic mismatch was chosen significantly less often than any other alternative. Within the three rhythmically matched alternatives, the exact match was chosen significantly more often than either word boundary mismatch. Thus, listeners both perceived speech rhythm and used durational cues effectively to locate the position of word boundaries.