How the tracking of habitual rate influences speech perception

Maslowski, M., Meyer, A. S., & Bosker, H. R. (2019). How the tracking of habitual rate influences speech perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 45(1), 128-138. doi:10.1037/xlm0000579.
Listeners are known to track statistical regularities in speech. Yet, which temporal cues are encoded is unclear. This study tested effects of talker-specific habitual speech rate and talker-independent average speech rate (heard over a longer period of time) on the perception of the temporal Dutch vowel contrast /A/-/a:/. First, Experiment 1 replicated that slow local (surrounding) speech contexts induce fewer long /a:/ responses than faster contexts. Experiment 2 tested effects of long-term habitual speech rate. One high-rate group listened to ambiguous vowels embedded in `neutral' speech from talker A, intermixed with speech from fast talker B. Another low-rate group listened to the same `neutral' speech from talker A, but to talker B being slow. Between-group comparison of the `neutral' trials showed that the high-rate group demonstrated a lower proportion of /a:/ responses, indicating that talker A's habitual speech rate sounded slower when B was faster. In Experiment 3, both talkers produced speech at both rates, removing the different habitual speech rates of talker A and B, while maintaining the average rate differing between groups. This time no global rate effect was observed. Taken together, the present experiments show that a talker's habitual rate is encoded relative to the habitual rate of another talker, carrying implications for episodic and constraint-based models of speech perception.
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