Vocabulary structure affects word recognition: Evidence from German listeners

Yu, J., Mailhammer, R., & Cutler, A. (2020). Vocabulary structure affects word recognition: Evidence from German listeners. In N. Minematsu, M. Kondo, T. Arai, & R. Hayashi (Eds.), Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2020 (pp. 474-478). Tokyo: ISCA. doi:10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-97.
Lexical stress is realised similarly in English, German, and
Dutch. On a suprasegmental level, stressed syllables tend to be
longer and more acoustically salient than unstressed syllables;
segmentally, vowels in unstressed syllables are often reduced.
The frequency of unreduced unstressed syllables (where only
the suprasegmental cues indicate lack of stress) however,
differs across the languages. The present studies test whether
listener behaviour is affected by these vocabulary differences,
by investigating German listeners’ use of suprasegmental cues
to lexical stress in German and English word recognition. In a
forced-choice identification task, German listeners correctly
assigned single-syllable fragments (e.g., Kon-) to one of two
words differing in stress (KONto, konZEPT). Thus, German
listeners can exploit suprasegmental information for
identifying words. German listeners also performed above
chance in a similar task in English (with, e.g., DIver, diVERT),
i.e., their sensitivity to these cues also transferred to a nonnative
language. An English listener group, in contrast, failed
in the English fragment task. These findings mirror vocabulary
patterns: German has more words with unreduced unstressed
syllables than English does.
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